Updated August 1, 2014

Study: Best States for Working Mothers


Here are the states that give working moms their best chances at earning what they are truly worth, while not paying more than they should on housing costs and childcare.

Working mothers know a dirty little secret: They can’t actually have it all. They are constantly pushed and pulled between their home life and their work life, trying to give 100% in all of their roles and not quite meeting the demands they put on themselves.

They feel guilty while at work and guilty while at home, according to a study by the Working Mother Research Institute. To top it off, they’re not always getting as paid as much as their male colleagues, and they see a big bulk of their incomes being swallowed up each month by childcare costs.

Still, for moms who find fulfillment in their careers as well as their paycheck, their work is a part of who they are. Their professional status plays as much a part in their sense of self as their status as a mother, wife and daughter. And where they are may make that status easier than other places.

10 Best States for Working Moms

Study Methodology

Looking at each of the 50 states, we examined the following factors:

  • Salary equality between men and women
  • Unemployment rate for women
  • Annual childcare costs
  • Monthly housing costs
  • Whether the state has an earned income tax credit

While men have generally been making more money than women for decades, and it’s not easy to change that, women can lower their chances of being paid unfairly by living in a state with greater salary equality. We used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to find the difference between the median full-time income of men and that of women in each state. Nationally, this is a $10,000 difference.

We also used the U.S. Census to find the unemployment rate for women. Naturally, a state in which more women have found themselves without a job isn’t likely to be an ideal choice for a working mother.

When you do have a job, you have to think about childcare. Especially for those parents with younger children, daycare is a must if you don’t have the advantage of living near friends or family who can care for your children while you’re working, or if you can’t afford a nanny. We relied on data from Child Care Aware to find the average annual cost of daycare for infants and preschool-age children in each state.

Nothing reflects a place’s cost of living more than housing costs. We used data from the U.S. Census to obtain median monthly housing costs for homes with a mortgage in each state. When deciding where to work, the price you’ll have to pay to live there is always a huge factor to consider.

We also took a look at which states offer an earned income tax credit (EITC) for families with low incomes. According to a research paper on Tax Injustice by Francine Lipman, EITC "is the most successful antipoverty program for working families". The federal EITC has been around for a long time, but now 25 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have created their own EITCs to help families that struggle to make ends meet, including households led by single working mothers. Just one state on our list does not have an EITC.

And what’s the point of working if you can’t have a little fun? We highlight the high points of each state with a fun fact about things to do in each one.

10. Wisconsin

  • Salary difference between men and women: $10,363
  • Unemployment rate for women: 4.2%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $9,581; preschool – $8,176
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,376
  • EITC: Yes

    Wisconsin makes our list because of its below average unemployment rate and housing costs. Childcare costs in this state are slightly higher than what you’ll find in other states, but its salary equality is in line with the national average.

    Did You Know: Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells is the nation's largest water-themed park. This is sure to be a hit with your little ones.

    9. South Dakota

  • Salary difference between men and women: $8,929
  • Unemployment rate for women: 2.6%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $5,701; preschool – $5,481
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,174
  • EITC: No

    South Dakota has an incredibly low unemployment rate. Despite not offering EITCs to working families, its childcare costs are lower than most states. South Dakota also has above-average salary equality.

    Did You Know: Jewel Cave in Custer, SD, is the third-longest cave in the world. Over 120 miles of passages have been surveyed, and the calcite crystals that glitter when illuminated give the cave its name.

    8. Louisiana

  • Salary difference between men and women: $15,663
  • Unemployment rate for women: 5.0%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $5,170; preschool – $4,703
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,148
  • EITC: Yes

    Louisiana boasts the lowest childcare costs on our list. Even though its salary equality isn’t the best, its unemployment rate is below the national average.

    Did You Know: The colors of Mardi Gras, which is held in New Orleans every year right before the Catholic fast during Lent, don’t just make an interesting combination. Purple, gold and green symbolize justice, power and faith, respectively.

    7. Indiana

  • Salary difference between men and women: $12,201
  • Unemployment rate for women: 5.1%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $7,066; preschool – $5,850
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,069
  • EITC: Yes

    Indiana makes the list because of its low unemployment rate and noteworthy housing costs. With below-average childcare costs, this is a place working moms should consider.

    Did You Know: The town of Santa Claus, IN, receives over half a million letters and requests at Christmas time. This is a fun story to laugh about with your kids while driving them to school, to test their knowledge of geography.

    6. New Mexico

  • Salary difference between men and women: $8,137
  • Unemployment rate for women: 5.5%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $6,878; preschool – $6,153
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,193
  • EITC: Yes

    New Mexico has impressively low childcare costs as well as a strong salary equality. Its housing costs are also low, and its unemployment rate is lower than average.

    Did You Know: One out of four workers in New Mexico works directly for the federal government. State and local governments are major employers as well.

    5. Kansas

  • Salary difference between men and women: $10,634
  • Unemployment rate for women: 3.9%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $8,520; preschool – $6,600
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,250
  • EITC: Yes

    Coming in at number five, Kansas has an unemployment rate below that of most states. Its childcare costs are about average, while its housing costs are slightly lower than most.

    Did You Know: Dorothy's House is in Liberal, KS, and looks just like the house in the movie "The Wizard of Oz." The Land of Oz is behind the house, and visitors can meet the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard.

    4. Vermont

  • Salary difference between men and women: $6,759
  • Unemployment rate for women: 3.8%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $8,788; preschool – $8,156
  • Monthly housing costs - $1,478
  • EITC: Yes

    Vermont has outstanding salary equality, with the average difference between men’s and women’s salaries falling under $7,000. This, coupled with a low unemployment rate, make Vermont worth considering.

    Did You Know: Montpelier, Vermont’s capital city, is the largest producer of maple syrup in America. If you live here, you’ll never have to worry about your pancakes, waffles or French toast going without “real” syrup again.

    3. Oklahoma

    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • Salary difference between men and women: $9,872
  • Unemployment rate for women: 3.9%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $6,750; preschool – $5,411
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,111
  • EITC: Yes

    Oklahoma’s low childcare costs and unemployment rate give it a third-place ranking on our list. The costs of daycare in this state are below average, as are its housing costs.

    Did You Know: Okmulgee, OK, hosts a Pecan Festival every year and holds the world record for the biggest pecan pie, pecan brownie, pecan cookie, and largest cookie and ice cream party. For working moms who don’t have time to do any baking, this is a sweet event to check out.

    2. Iowa

    Des Moines, Iowa
    Des Moines, Iowa

  • Salary difference between men and women: $10,199
  • Unemployment rate for women: 3.0%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $7,870; preschool – $7,109
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,140
  • EITC: Yes

    Iowa boasts an even lower unemployment rate for women and has average monthly housing costs that won’t leave families struggling to get by. With its salary equality slightly below the national average, this state is a top choice for moms in the workforce.

    Did You Know: Historically, Iowa has been a leader in women’s rights. Since the 1800s, this state has been a frontrunner in granting women property rights, custody rights in divorce and jury duty eligibility. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 1869 that Arabella Mansfield couldn’t be barred from practicing law due to gender, making her America’s first female lawyer.

    1. Nebraska

  • Salary difference between men and women: $9,660
  • Unemployment rate for women: 3.3%
  • Annual childcare costs: infant – $6,900; preschool – $6,077
  • Monthly housing costs: $1,229
  • EITC: Yes

    With its low unemployment rate for women and childcare costs below the nation’s average, Nebraska made the top of our list. It also has low housing costs, making it an all-around affordable state.

    Did You Know: Nebraska is home to the world’s largest jewelry store – Borsheim’s Fine Jewelry in Omaha. Some say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. If this is true for you, this store is worth browsing when you need a mommy’s time out.


    Though we had fun creating this list and considered the factors thought to be important to a working mother, your priorities may be different. In the end, the decision of where to live and work should be based on your family’s wants and needs.

    Hat tip to Francine Lipman from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for providing guidance on the EITC data points we used.

  • Jasmine Williams is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Jasmine Williams at jasmine@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped families make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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