Gender pay gap: Top 5 best and worst states

The pay gap between men and women has steadily narrowed during the past few decades. Women earned 77 cents for every dollar men earned in 2011, compared with 59 cents in 1963, the year President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.

The gap – as ranked by the difference in median annual income between men and women who work full time – varies greatly state-by-state, according to a recent analysis of Census data by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Some states have rooted out instances where women are being paid less than men for the same job, narrowing the gap. Other states have economies based on industries that are dominated by men, keeping the gap comparatively wide.

Here is a look at states with biggest and smallest gender pay gaps.

5. California

Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS/File
An employee restocks bread items inside a Fresh & Easy store in Burbank, Calif. California's large service industry helps it rank highly on narrowing the gender pay gap. REUTERS/

Women in California's full-time workforce make 85 percent of what men do, putting it No. 5 on the study's list states with the narrowest wage gaps. In raw numbers, the median salary for women is $41,817, compared with $49,281 for men.

California's high ranking is partly because of the state's large service industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranks the leisure and hospitality industry as one of the top sectors for women’s pay equity. That means California’s service industry somewhat outweighs the state’s high-tech industry, in which men often earn more than women. Another contributing industry is agriculture, which the BLS also ranks as a sector with high women’s pay equity.

But California's high unemployment rate is also a factor. Areas with high unemployment see narrow wage gaps, Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Forbes magazine. California has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation: 10.9 percent.

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