Millennial women, beware. Although your mothers and grandmothers may have made swift strides in health, well-being and economic equality compared to their predecessors, you are actually regressing.
And it’s going to be a good trick if you can save your way into retirement—assuming you live long enough to retire at all, that is.
Hey, don't blame the messenger. It's according to a new study from the Population Reference Bureau, which reveals that although young boomer women racked up an impressive 66 percent gain in overall well-being, in comparison with their World War II-era mothers, GenX women only progressed 2 percent.
And millennial women? Sorry, but you’ve actually lost a percent.
A Huffington Post report points out that, among the 14 key areas in social, economic and physical well-being that were evaluated by the study, eight actually showed “modest to moderate” improvement.
However, that wasn’t enough to outweigh the declines in the other 6—some of which declined “sharply.” Even among those that improved, progress did not keep pace with gains for earlier generations of young women.
Under the current political administration, whether that improvement will even be allowed to continue is questionable; that could lead to further regression in times to come.
Not all the factors slowing women’s progress are within the realm of money, although quite a few are. Some are ideologically or politically driven, while others take a toll in other ways—culturally and psychologically.
“While some measures are improving, overall the index paints a picture of lost momentum,” Beth Jarosz, an author of the report, is quoted saying. Jarosz adds, “Too many women lack the resources and supportive environments they need to live healthier lives and achieve their full potential.”
Weighing down millennial women through lost progress, whether via health, political or financial issues, makes an already tough job even tougher. In the midst of the retirement crisis, those women are weighed down even further by pay, education and debt issues.
Although reports indicate that millennials are already saving for retirement, millennial women are battling handicaps that millennial men are not—and it’s going to take a toll.
If they survive the physical losses the study identifies—and that actually means literally surviving and living long enough to retire—they still have to rise above the cultural and economic factors to come through with enough money to see them through retirement.
Sadly, as things stand, that’s less likely today than it was for the previous generation of women.
Here are the 14 factors that could keep millennial women from making it through to retirement:
14. Millennial women are more likely than in the past to overdose on drugs.
Women are still less likely to overdose on drugs than men, but that doesn’t mean they’re untouched by the problem.
In fact, the overdose rate for women has more than quadrupled since 1999, after decades of remaining fairly constant.
While the drug overdose death rate is still lower among women than men, the rate for women has more than quadrupled since 1999–2001, rising to 12.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2013–2015.
In the current political climate, any help with drug problems is more likely to decrease than increase, and those with drug problems who manage to avoid overdosing can find it difficult, if not impossible, to find and hold a job—making it even tougher to escape the cycle.
13. They're less likely to smoke. But…
In a good news/bad news context, the smoking rate has declined substantially among women, with just under 18 percent of millennial women smoking in 2014, compared with 44 percent of young WWII-generation women in 1965, 32 percent of boomer women in 1985 and 22 percent of GenX women in 2000.
But women lower on the education scale, and among some ethnic/cultural groups, still smoke in substantial numbers.
The study reports that in 2015, women’s smoking rates were nearly nine times higher among women with a GED education (29.4 percent) compared with women with graduate degrees (3.4 percent).
In addition, rates in 2015 were highest among American Indian and Alaska Native women (24 percent) and lowest among Asian American women (3 percent).
Smoking rates were also considerably higher among lesbian, gay or bisexual adults than among heterosexual/straight adults (24 percent and 17 percent, respectively) in 2014.
And the rise in drug use/overdose can only be seen as an even more dangerous threat to health.
12. More likely to live in poverty.
The poverty rate among U.S. young women has increased by more than 35 percent in the past 15 years.
The proportion of women ages 30–34 living in poverty rose to about 17 percent for the millennial generation, compared with about 12 percent for GenX.
11. More likely to be incarcerated.
There’s been a “dramatic” increase in women’s incarceration rates since the WWII generation.
While incarceration rates among women remain lower than those of men, the study says, the rate of increase among women has been faster, increasing even as overall crime rates have declined.
While crime levels in 2013–2015 were the same (violent crime) or lower (property crime) than in 1969–1971, 10 times more women were in prison.
Stricter sentencing guidelines and the crackdown on illegal drugs, the study reports, are key factors, as well as a direct correlation between trauma and later incarceration.
It cites a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls that says, “The most common offenses for which girls are arrested include running away and truancy. These behaviors are also the most common symptoms or outcomes of trauma and abuse. Once in the system, girls may be treated as offenders rather than girls in need of support, perpetuating a vicious cycle that is increasingly known as the “sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline.”
10. More likely to commit suicide.
The suicide rate for women ― particularly white and American Indian women ― has increased by 43 percent over the past decade.
And while it’s not necessarily an indication of more attempts to commit suicide, the report finds that “young women shifted to more lethal methods of self-harm.”
The study adds that between 2004–2013, suicide rates rose the fastest in small towns and rural areas; in large metropolitan areas, increases were smaller.
9. Less likely to be a homicide statistic. But…
Fortunately, the female homicide rate has fallen in each generation since the baby boom.
The homicide death rate among women aged 25–34 was considerably higher for young women in the WWII and boomer generations—more than 6 deaths per 100,000 women—than for GenX women (4 deaths per 100,000) and millennials (3 deaths per 100,000).
However, the study points out, “Despite falling homicide rates, wide gaps persist between racial/ethnic groups. In 2013–2015, black women ages 25 to 34 were three times more likely to be murdered than their white female peers.”
8. More likely to die from pregnancy-related causes.
The maternal mortality rate for millennial women has more than doubled since the boomer generation, a shocking rise from 7.5 deaths per 100,000 live births to 19.2.
This is in spite of scientific and medical advances and a decreasing maternal death rate worldwide. GenX women have also experienced an increase in the maternal mortality rate.
In a supposedly modern time, in a developed nation, how can this be?
The report attributes the increase in maternal deaths to a wave of state laws that curb access to abortion and to the shutdown of women’s health care clinics. The HuffPost report points out that in Texas alone, maternal deaths doubled from 2010 to 2012 as the state legislature slashed family-planning funding, passed a host of abortion restrictions that forced clinics to close and defunded Planned Parenthood.
Says the study, “The increase in maternal deaths represents a major setback for women’s well-being. Public health specialists consider the maternal mortality rate to be a ‘sensitive measure of health system strength, access to quality care, and coverage of effective interventions to prevent maternal deaths.’ The lack of improvement in this measure implies substantial failings in the health system, such as lack of access to care and possibly inadequate treatment or discrimination in treatment.” It warns, “By any measure, U.S. maternal mortality has increased over the past 25 years.”
At this rate, millennial women might not be around to worry all that much about the escalation of health care costs in retirement.
7. Have seen a (probably unsustainable) drop in the teen birth rate.
This is actually in the good news/bad news department. While the good news is that the teen birth rate fell to a historic low in 2017, owing in part to federal investments in family planning and increased access to birth control under the Obama administration, the bad news is that the declining trend is not likely to continue under the Trump administration.
Between efforts to defund Planned Parenthood clinics and changes to the essential services insurers must provide to those buying health care coverage under the proposed American Health Care Act, it will become tougher for young women to access family planning and birth control.
In addition, while the report says that in 2015, the U.S. teen birth rate hit its historic low of 22 births per 1,000 females, that rate is actually high when compared to other developed nations such as Canada, where the teen birth rate is 9 births per 1,000 females.
The study points out that teen mothers “are more likely than other women to have serious pregnancy complications, and both the maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are higher for teenagers than for other mothers.”
Then there’s this: “As they reach adulthood, teenage mothers are less likely to complete high school and college than their nonparent peers, which leads to a higher likelihood of being unemployed or relying on social assistance.”
6. A lower high school dropout rate. But…
Fifty years ago, the study says, young women were more likely to drop out of high school than young men. But that’s reversed itself with the passage of time, and now higher proportions of women than men receiving a high school diploma or equivalent degree.
Unfortunately, if women stop there, there’s not much reward. In fact, median earnings among full-time workers are 2.5 times higher among women with at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with women who did not graduate from high school.
And surprisingly, education level translates into a “marriage gap,” with women with bachelor’s degrees more likely to be in stable first marriages compared with less-educated women.
Women with high school diplomas were also more than twice as likely to be cohabiting (16 percent) compared with college graduates (7 percent), and women with less education were also more likely to be divorced or in a second marriage.
5. And yet, higher education isn’t paying off enough for millennial women.
This is another good news/bad news item. While the share of young women ages 25–29 with a bachelor’s degree has exceeded that of men since 1991, those degrees still have not brought them parity in pay with men—not to mention that women are hit harder by student debt than men.
Women with bachelor’s degrees are being kept out of poverty by those degrees—but they’re the only ones who are. In fact, the study says, poverty has risen sharply since 1999–2001 among women at every education level, with the exception of those with bachelor’s degrees.
Although the wage gap is narrowing, median earnings for full-time, year-round work for millennial women aged 25–34 in 2015 were 89.6 percent those of men’s. But before you start cheering for the progress that represents—and it is progress—the report adds, “In 2015, women earned less money than men at every education level.
In fact, women need to earn at least an extra degree to receive the same earnings as men with less education.
In 2015, women with associate’s degrees had lower median earnings than men with only high school diplomas.” To top it off, a woman with a high school diploma only makes as much as a man with less than a ninth-grade education.
4. Unemployment is higher for millennial women.
Despite those degrees—and even advanced degrees—the unemployment rate among millennial women is just under 6 percent.
That’s equivalent to that faced by boomer women in their youth, who were entering the job market during the economic stagnation of the early 1970s.
It’s tough to save for retirement without a paycheck.
3. Millennial women are underrepresented in the highest-paying STEM occupations.
Workers in computers, mathematics, architecture and engineering have had some of the highest median annual earnings for the last 10 years. But not millennial women.
“Women in the WWII generation were largely excluded from jobs in science and technology (7.5 percent of high-wage STEM workers)” boomer women progressed to make up “nearly 23 percent of high-earning STEM workers” and GenX women made it to 25 percent of STEM workers, the study reports, then says, “but then the trend reversed. Today,” it continues, “high-earning STEM occupations are as gender-segregated as they were two generations ago (less than 23 percent of STEM workers are women).”
Not only are women “concentrated in lower-wage caregiving and service jobs,” the gender wage gap “persists even within occupations.”
The study says, “there is no occupation in which women earn significantly more than men and only a handful—such as counselors and special education teachers—in which their earnings are on par with men’s.”
2. Millennial women are underrepresented as business owners.
The share of women business owners, both employers and sole proprietors combined, has increased nearly eightfold between 1972 and 2012, but that rapid rate of increase shows how low the starting point was for female business owners in the WWII generation.
In 2012, the most recent year of data available, the report says that only about one in three business owners was female.
The numbers were even lower among owners of businesses with employees (excluding sole proprietors); among firms that report payroll, fewer than one in five (19 percent) was female-owned.
Lack of access to capital with which to start or expand a business is one reason—as are gender stereotypes.
1. Continued lower representation in politics.
Congressional representation is up for women across the four generations, but then it had nowhere else to go.
Just 2 percent of Congressional representatives were women when the WWII generation was young.
And although that’s up nearly tenfold, that still means that the 115th Congress is predominantly male, with only one in five female members.
In state legislatures, one in four representatives is female.
And while the attitude among the public about women in elective office has improved—in the 1970s nearly half of American adults thought men were better suited to politics than women, while today that’s down to about 20 percent—there’s still a long way to go before women make up a proportional segment in public office.
Among the factors that play into this are that persistent implicit bias against women officeholders and money.
Since running for office can be expensive, and women have lower levels of wealth than men, the study points out that policies cutting gender earnings and poverty gaps may also increase women’s political representation.