Women in the United States
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)14 (2015)
Women in parliament26.7% (2021)[1]
Women over 25 with secondary education95.4% (2015)
Women in labour force56.0% (2015)
Gender Inequality Index[2]
Value0.179 (2021)
Rank44th out of 191
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value0.769 (2022)
Rank27th out of 146

The legal status of women in the United States is, in comparison to other countries, equal to that of men, and women are generally viewed as having equal social standing as well. In the early history of the U.S., women were largely relegated to the home. However, the role of women was revolutionized over the course of the 20th century. Labor shortages during WWII led to an influx of women in the workforce, which helped to build toward the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and '70s.

However, there are several major pieces of legislation aimed to bolster women's rights that the United States has never ratified, including the U.N's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Equal Rights Amendment.


Main article: History of women in the United States

The earliest women living in what is now the United States were Native Americans. European women arrived in the 17th century and brought with them European culture and values. During the 19th century, women were primarily restricted to domestic roles in keeping with Protestant values. The campaign for women's suffrage in the United States culminated with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. During World War II, many women filled roles vacated by men fighting overseas. Beginning in the 1960s, the second-wave feminist movement changed cultural perceptions of women, although it was unsuccessful in passing the Equal Rights Amendment. In the 21st century, women have achieved greater representation in prominent roles in American life.

The study of women's history has been a major scholarly and popular field, with many scholarly books and articles, museum exhibits, and courses in schools and universities. The roles of women were long ignored in textbooks and popular histories. By the 1960s, women were being presented more often. An early feminist approach underscored their victimization and inferior status at the hands of men. In the 21st century, writers have emphasized the distinctive strengths displayed inside the community of women, with special concern for minorities among women.


Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The United States has never ratified the U.N.'s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, although it played an important role in drafting the treaty.[4][5] As of 2014, the United States is thus one of only seven nations which have not ratified it – also including Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Tonga.[6]

Equal Rights Amendment

38 states as of January 2020 have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). [7] Three-fourths or 38 out of 50 states are required to ratify a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Several states originally ratified the ERA, but subsequently rescinded the ratification. Recessions in other amendments have been ignored by the courts.[8] The status of the ERA is currently unclear.[9]


Child marriage, as defined by UNICEF, is observed in the United States. The UNICEF definition of child marriage includes couples who are formally married, or who live together as a sexually active couple in an informal union, with at least one member — usually the girl — being less than 18 years old.[10][11] The latter practice is more common in the United States, and it is officially called cohabitation. Laws regarding child marriage vary in the different states of the United States. Generally, children 16 and over may marry with parental consent, with the age of 18 being the minimum in all but two states to marry without parental consent. Those under 16 generally require a court order in addition to parental consent.[12]

Parental leave

The United States is the only high income country not to provide required paid parental leave.[13]

Reproductive rights

Main article: Birth control in the United States

Birth control is legal nationwide as of 1965.[14][15] Abortion was made legal nationwide as of 1973, with states allowed to place regulations on abortion which fall short of prohibition after the first trimester of pregnancy.[16][17] On June 25, 2022, the guarantee of a right to abortion under 25 weeks of life was revoked by the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade.[18] This decision left abortion largely to states to regulate, leading to a flood of legislation from states seeking to restrict the procedure. Many of those states have made a point of pushing the limits of the Dobbs decision in hopes of banning the procedure at as early a gestational age as possible and to encourage further judicial action to enshrine pro-life values.[19] There have been a myriad of legal challenges, as well as a push to protect abortion at both the state and federal levels.[20]

Representation in government

President and Vice President

A woman has never been President of the United States. Kamala Harris is the first woman to become Vice President of the United States, in 2021.

United States House of Representatives

The first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives was in 1917, Jeannette Rankin, who represented Montana. Women who served before her were finishing someone else's term who died in office or had resigned.[21]

In 2007, Nancy Pelosi was elected the 52nd Speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi is the only woman in U.S. history to serve as Speaker. In 2019 she was again elected Speaker for the 2nd time (55th) and the first former Speaker to return to the position since 1955. As Speaker, Pelosi was the second highest ranking female elected official and second in the presidential line of succession.

As of 2021, there are 119 women of 435 total in the U.S. House of Representatives, 88 Democrats, 31 Republicans.[1]

United States Senate

In its first 130 years in existence, the Senate was entirely male. In 1931, Hattie Wyatt Caraway was the first woman to win election to the United States Senate. Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate in 1949. In 1992, an unprecedented four women were elected to the Senate, Patty Murray, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Carol Moseley Braun who was also the first woman of color in the Senate. Today, of 100 members of the U.S. Senate, there are 24 women senators, 16 Democrats and 8 Republicans.[1]

Presidential Cabinet

In 1933 Frances Perkins was appointed United States Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. In 1949, Georgia Neese Clark was the first woman appointed Treasurer of the United States followed by Oveta Culp Hobby as United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1953.

The 1970s would see several women appointed for the first time in cabinet positions such as Carla Anderson Hills, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1975, Juanita M. Kreps, United States Secretary of Commerce in 1977 and Shirley Hufstedler, Secretary of Education in 1979.

In the 1980s, Elizabeth Dole was appointed United States Secretary of Transportation in 1983. Elaine Chao would become third woman and first Asian American to hold this position in 2017. Susan Engeleiter was appointed the head of the Small Business Administration in 1989.

In the 1993, Janet Reno as United States Attorney General and Sheila Widnall as United States Secretary of the Air Force were the first women appointed to their positions. Three women have served as United States Secretary of State. The first was Madeleine Albright in 1997. In 2005 Condoleezza Rice became the second woman and first person of color to serve in this position. She was succeeded by former First Lady of the United States and U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton in 2009.

Ann Veneman as United States Secretary of Agriculture, Gale Norton, United States Secretary of the Interior and Susan Livingstone, United States Secretary of the Navy were all the first women appointed to their positions in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

Janet Napolitano became the first woman to be appointed United States Secretary of Homeland Security in 2009 and Gina Haspel was the first woman appointed Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2018.

United States Supreme Court

On the Supreme Court, there are four women justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. The first woman justice was Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981 followed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.

State and local governments

As of 2021, there are 9 women state governors, 6 Democrats, 3 Republicans; there are 17 Lt. Governors, 10 Democrats, 7 Republicans. Women hold 31.0% of the seats on state legislatures. Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, 31 have a woman as mayor.[1]

Twenty-one state supreme courts (the highest state court) are currently or have been majority female.[6][12]

Desire to leave the United States

According to a Gallup poll from January 2019, 40 percent of women under the age of 30 would like to leave the United States, with most preferring Canada as a place to live for a better life.[22]


Gender equality ranking

As of 2021, the United States is ranked 30th of 156 applicable countries in gender equality on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index.[23]



As of 2014, women in the United States earn more post-secondary (college and graduate school) degrees than men do.[24]


As of 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, average age at first marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men.[25]


As of 2014, women are 46.5% of the total United States workforce.[26]

Sex discrimination has been outlawed in non-ministerial employment in the United States since 1964 nationwide; however, under a judicially created doctrine called the "ministerial exemption," religious organizations are immune from sex discrimination suits brought by "ministerial employees," a category that includes such religious roles as priests, imams or kosher supervisors.[27][28]

A woman's median salary in the United States has increased over time, although as of 2014 it is only 77% of man's median salary, a phenomenon often referred to as the Gender Pay Gap. (A woman's average salary is reported as 84% of a man's average salary.)[29][30] Whether this is due to discrimination is very hotly disputed, while economists and sociologists have provided evidence both supporting[31][32][33] and debunking[34][35] this assertion.

Reproductive health

Women's reproductive health in the United States refers to the set of physical, mental, and social issues related to the health of women in the United States. It includes the rights of women in the United States to adequate sexual health, available contraception methods, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. The prevalence of women's health issues in American culture is inspired by second-wave feminism in the United States.[36] As a result of this movement, women of the United States began to question the largely male-dominated health care system and demanded a right to information on issues regarding their physiology and anatomy.[36] The U.S. government has made significant strides to propose solutions, like creating the Women's Health Initiative through the Office of Research on Women's Health in 1991.[36] However, many issues still exist related to the accessibility of reproductive healthcare as well as the stigma and controversy attached to sexual health, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases.[37][38]

The Department of Health and Human Services has developed a definition for sexual health in the United States based on the World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health.[39]

“Sexual health is a state of well-being in relation to sexuality across the life span that involves physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual dimensions. Sexual health is an intrinsic element of human health and is based on positive, equitable, and respectful approach to sexuality, relationships, and reproduction, that is free of coercion, fear, discrimination, stigma, shame, and violence.[40]

The United States government recognizes that gender is a factor which plays a significant role in sexual health.[40]

With this being said, there is a war on women's rights in the United States. It is based on politics in the United States and for candidates to be able to get votes or funding for certain area agendas. With this being said, one of the first pushes with making laws tighter for agendas would be the law in Louisiana. This allowed women who have had abortions in the past to be able to sue the doctor who did the procedure for up to ten years past the abortion date. The law stated that they could sue for damages not only done to the women, but also to the emotional damages of the fetus. This was a political move that has gotten the ball rolling for more states to put laws into place against abortions or for abortions depending on the political agenda they are pushing in each state.[41]


Main article: Violence against women in the United States

Violence against women has been recognized as a public health concern in the United States.[42] Culture in the country has promoted the trivialization of women-directed violence, with media in the United States creating the appearance of violence against women unimportant to the public.[43]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice reports that about 1 in every 4 women suffer from at least one physical assault experience from a partner during adulthood.[44] Studies have found that around 20% of women in the United States have been victims of rape[45][46] with many incidents of rape being underreported according to a 2013 study.[47]

In 2017, the United States was ranked the world's 9th safest country for women by the New World Wealth research group.[48]

See also


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  2. ^ "Human Development Report 2021/2022" (PDF). HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORTS. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  3. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2022" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  4. ^ Baldez, Lisa (8 March 2013). "U.S. drops the ball on women's rights". cnn.com. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  5. ^ "cedaw2014.org – Just another WordPress site". cedaw2014.org. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
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  8. ^ Wegman, Jesse (2022-01-28). "Opinion | Why Can't We Make Women's Equality the Law of the Land?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  9. ^ "D.C. Court Questions Ability to Advance Equal Rights Amendment". news.bloomberglaw.com. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
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  11. ^ Child Marriage ICRW (2010)
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Further reading