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The Status of Women in the South

by Institute for Women's Policy Research

New report finds few southern states recieve a grade higher than a D+ on women's economic, political, health, and social status


IWPR's new The Status of Women in the South is the first report to provide a comprehensive portrait of the status of women, particularly the status of women of color, in the southern states, grading each state on six different topic areas related to women’s economic, political, health, and social status. The report finds that closing the gender wage gap would reduce relatively high poverty rate for working women in the southern United States by more than half and add $155.4 billion per year to the South's economy.
Bonus 50-state fact sheet! Equal pay would cut the poverty rate among all working women by more than half in 28 states. Find out how much equal pay would reduce poverty for working women and grow each state's economy in, "The Economic Impact of Equal Pay by State." 

Key Findings

Political Participation

  • Promising: While southern women of color are less likely to be representatives at the federal level than their non-South counterparts, they are more likely to be representatives at the state level in the South. In fact, nearly half (48 percent) of black female state legislators in the United States serve in the southern states.
  • Disappointing: Women in West Virginia and South Carolina will have to wait over 200 years to reach parity in their state legislatures, if progress continues at the current rate since 1975.

Employment & Earnings

  • Promising: Education has a bigger percent impact on black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander women’s earnings in the South than in the rest of the country. Black and Hispanic women in the South nearly double their earnings with a college degree.
  • Disappointing: the gender wage gap cost the average woman in the South $6,392 in 2014. Added up for all working women, the wage gap cost women in the South $155.4 billion per year, the equivalent of 2.8 percent of the southern states’ combined gross domestic product.

Work & Family

  • Promising: Compared with the United States overall, women in the South tend to have better access to quality, affordable child care. Half of the 14 southern states rank in the top ten nationally on IWPR’s child care index, which includes indicators on child care cost and quality.
  • Disappointing: Paid leave policies are almost non-existent in the South. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the South to have any type of paid leave law, requiring employers to provide paid sick days. With half of all breadwinner mothers in the South being women of color, the lack of paid sick days or paid family leave disproportionately affects mothers of color in the region.

Poverty & Opportunity

  • Promising: Women’s business ownership is more common in the South than in the rest of the country. Women of color are particularly entrepreneurial: black women owned nearly 60 percent of all black-owned businesses, compared with white women, who owned only one-third of all white-owned businesses.
  • Disappointing: Southern black and Hispanic women are twice as likely to live in poverty as southern white and Asian/Pacific Islander women. The poverty rate for black and Hispanic women in the South is 25.5 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively, compared with poverty rates for white and Asian/Pacific Islander women at 12.1 and 11.1 percent, respectively.

Reproductive Rights

  • Promising: 10 of the 14 southern states received grades above D and none of the states receives an F on the Reproductive Rights Index.
  • Disappointing: Infant mortality rates are alarmingly high in the South. Infant mortality rates in the South are 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with the much lower rate of 5.6 per 1,000 live births for all other states. The only southern state to have a lower rate than the national average is Texas (5.8 per 1,000 live births).

Health & Well-Being

  • Promising: Southern women are more likely than women in other regions to receive preventive care, including cholesterol screening, mammograms, and testing for HIV.
  • Disappointing: Women in the South are more likely to die from heart disease and breast cancer, more likely to have diabetes or AIDS, and have more days of poor mental health per month than women in the non-South states.

Violence & Safety

  • Promising: Although four southern states—Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia—are among the ten states with the highest number of reported cases of human trafficking in 2014, each of these states had passed significant laws that are critical for a comprehensive legal framework regarding trafficking
  • Disappointing: Eleven southern states accounted for over one-third of all female homicides by a male in 2013 (571 of the 1,615 victims). Although the vast majority of female homicides committed by men occurred between intimate partners and more than half (53 percent) were committed using firearms, only four of the 13 southern states and the District of Columbia had barred those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from gun possession.

Share the findings using #StatusOfWomenSouth!

Visit for more information about theStatus of Women in the States project, a tool for leaders and the public to access information at the state and national level. The site is also the most accessible, comprehensive source of state-level data on women of color in the United States.

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