So what does this tell us? Before getting to that, we need to talk a little bit about the raw wage gap as a statistic. Because it has problems. Enough problems that my editor Derek Thompson and I strongly diverge on whether it's even a useful measure. (I think it is, he thinks it isn't.) When someone says women earn 84 cents on the dollar compared to men in New York or 70 cents on the dollar compared to men in Utah, they're comparing all female workers and all male workers at once. As a result, you sort of end up comparing apples and oranges, or in this case, software engineers and elementary school teachers. As a rule, women tend to work in lower-paying careers. They also tend to work fewer hours, thanks largely to family obligations, and often take breaks in their career to care for children, both of which bring down their pay. When you compare women and men who work in the same kinds of jobs for similar hours and similar years, most (though not all) of the gap disappears. So the graph up above isn't really showing us the states where women face the most discrimination, at least in the sense of not being paid equally for equal work.*
All of that said, I do think that on a very basic level, it shows us the states where women are having the most luck matching up financially with men, whether it's because public policy gives them a leg up in the labor force, or because the local mix of industries happens to favor women (I don't think it's an accident that hospitality-heavy Florida has a relatively small gap). Though it's not an airtight relationship, for instance, states where women hold a greater percentage of management jobs seem to have a smaller pay gap.
Now, back to that first chart. I think there are two particularly interesting things about it. First, in almost half of all states, the pay gap is within 2 cents of the national average. It's within 4 cents in all but 16. The problem really is similarly severe in most corners of the country, regardless of how the state is governed, or what industries dominate.
And what about the exceptions? Well, it's hard to tell what links them together. I don't know exactly what Alabama, Utah, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Wyoming have in common that they'd all end up together on the low end of the graph, except maybe religious and cultural conservatism (but then, how do you explain Texas having a smaller than average pay gap?). I'm even less clear what threads together the ten states where women make at least 82 cents for every dollar men earn. It's hard to think of two economies that have less in common than New York and Nevada, yet they're ranked beside one another. All of which I think just goes to reinforce what a tricky issue the wage gap really is.
*Now, I would argue that the way young women are steered away from certain subjects in school, the way they're nudged out and passed over in alpha-male-centric industries like finance and tech, and the entrenched social expectation that they handle the bulk child care all impact things like career choice and work hours and could be grouped under the headline of systemic discrimination. And those factors might well vary state to state. But let's not digress too far.