The Best & Worst States for Young Women to Live in

You’re young, educated, and looking to get away from your crazy college town! But where do you go? Which states are best for your health, salary and overall happiness? The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) might be able to help.

For the last 28 years, the IWPR has been gathering information on how the 50 states and D.C. differ on key female issues. In IWPR’s spring report, experts have analyzed state-by-state numbers, specifically for young women.

“As a young woman, your choices matter,” says Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., president of IWPR. “But our data shows that where you live also matters a great deal: Your state can affect how much it costs to go to college, how much you will earn, how much child care will cost you, your overall health, and much, much more.”

Lets take a look at those results:

Career

It’s no surprise that women’s pay and earnings vary from state to state. "Economic structure is different in different parts of the country," explains Hartmann.

Salary

Average: $31,000 annually (for full-time work)Highest earnings: D.C. ($53,900); Massachusetts ($40,000); Maryland ($38,600)Lowest earnings: Idaho ($24,900); Mississippi ($25,400); Arkansas ($25,000); New Mexico, Nebraska ($26,000)

So why do women under 35 in D.C., Maryland, and Massachusetts make twice what women in Idaho and Mississippi do? Education! D.C. is the best-educated part of the country. Also, industries in each state have a big impact on earnings and available jobs. "Maryland, for example, has been working for a while to get more women into STEM fields," says Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR.

Unemployment

Average: 12% of young women were unemployed at some point in 2013.Lowest percentage of unemployment: North Dakota (2%); Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota (6%)Highest percentage of unemployment: Alabama, Mississippi (16%); New Mexico, Georgia (15%)

According to David Cooper, senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, job growth in top states is driven by the gas and oil boom. Unfortunately, you don’t see a whole lot of women in those industries. While you get some women engineers, but those industries are still strongly dominated by men. However, the boom opens jobs in shops, restaurants, hotels, and even a few doctor jobs—and that is where most women are.

Pay gap

Average: Young women working full-time make 89 cents to their male counterparts' dollar.Smallest pay gap: New York ($1.02 to men's $1); Vermont, D.C., California (98¢); North Carolina (97¢)Largest pay gap: Wyoming (72¢); Louisiana (78¢); Utah (79¢); Idaho, Nebraska (82¢)

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, says that the pay gap generally increases as women grow older, as this timing coincides with when many choose to have children and, as a result, must often slow down their career (and therefore, their earnings). It makes sense then, that in New York—where women are outearning men!—the average age at which women begin having children is around 27 or 28, while women in Wyoming, on average, begin having children at age 23.

Health

According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones Solution, where you live is one of the most important factors in your health and diet. You can focus on workouts and good food, he says, but "there's nothing more important than living in a place that makes health decisions easy for you."

Diet

Average: 15% of young women eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day.Healthiest: Oregon, New Hampshire (20% get five servings a day); Vermont, Maine (19%)Least Healthy: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi (9%)

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear none of us are getting an A+ in this department. But what is the big difference between Oregon and Mississippi? Availability. "Oregon and Vermont are states with more access to things like farmers' markets," says Kelly Pritchett, a nutrition and exercise science professor at Central Washington University.

Fitness

Average: 49% of young women exercise 150 minutes per week (roughly five 30-minute workouts).High level of exercise: Oregon (68%); Alaska, Montana (63%)Low level of exercise: Tennessee (36%); Mississippi, Texas (39%)

Again, we all could use a little more cardio in our lives. But not all exercise revolves around the gym. A lot of people in states like Oregon and Alaska get in a good work out just using the environment their states provide them. In cities like Portland, it’s easier to walk or bike to the downtown areas, but states like Tennessee and Texas are not made for that type of transportation. "Some towns, like Chattanooga, are pretty active, but overall you don't see bike paths," says Pritchett.

Sexual health

Average: 623 of every 100,000 women get chlamydia, the most commonly reported STDLow cases of chlamydia: New Hampshire (327 of every 100,000 get it); Maine (354); Utah (356)High cases of chlamydia: D.C. (1,200); Alaska (1,100); Mississippi (826)

Sexual health is important everywhere in the country. But why do women in D.C. and Alaska test positive for chlamydia at a higher rate? It might actually be due to more testing—which means more data. These parts of the country actually test for STDs more than other areas. "If you look for something, you might find it," says Katharine O'Connell White, M.D., assistant ob-gyn professor at Tufts University. Moral of the story: know your status, no matter where you live.

Happiness

What affects your happiness? Traffic? Weather? Environmental factors can actually have a huge affect on overall happiness and mood.

Mental health

Average: 20% of young women have been diagnosed with depression.Lowest rates of depression: California, Hawaii (only 13% have been depressed); New Jersey (14%)Highest rates of depression: Vermont, Maine (33%); New Hampshire, Oregon (30%)

Places with high depression rates are, in fact, rainy and cold. "People tend to be happier in the sunshine states," says Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., of the University of North Carolina's Center for Women's Mood Disorders, "More sun is good for circadian rhythms."

Overall mood

Average: Young women report their mental health is "not good" five days per month.Low levels of anxiety: New Jersey, Hawaii, North Dakota, Virginia (women report feeling this way less than four days a month)High levels of anxiety: Arkansas (seven days); Maine, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Alabama (six days)

So women spend a whole 2 MONTHS each year feeling sad, stressed, or down? That is a lot of time! The study shows that those well-paid Jersey girls are more optimistic than most.

"Not every state checks every box," says Hartmann, "but you can find a state that checks the important boxes for you."

Are these findings surprising, or, based on your experience, do you find them to be accurate? Will this affect where you choose to settle down after graduation?