A new study conducted by the Population Reference Bureau included grim findings on the well-being of millennial women. While millennial women have made several advances compared to previous generations, there are key ways in which they lag behind or are worse off than their mothers, as well as other previous generations.
On the positive side, the research found that millennials are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to earn a college degree. The teen birth rate is also at a historic low. And, while the gender wage gap still exists, it has narrowed compared to previous generations. Women’s representation in politics has also improved, albeit at a glacial pace.
But disturbingly — poverty, unemployment and suicide rates have all risen among millennial women. The suicide rate is related to an increase in drug overdoses, in part due to the growing opioid epidemic that has afflicted millions of young people. Millennial women are also much more likely than previous generations to be in prison; the incarceration rate has increased tenfold since the World War II generation.
The study’s authors recommend a number of policies that could increase the economic security, health and well-being of millennial women. Overall, millennial women need stronger social safety nets through policies that increase their ability to make a living while also caring for their families, including a living wage, paid family leave, affordable childcare and flexible work policies. The reality of working families has changed dramatically since previous generations, and more households rely on two incomes than ever before. Our policies, however, have not kept up with the changing face of American families.
Millennials have benefitted from several significant advances in health care, but there is one area where progress has actually backtracked: maternal mortality rates. (These indicate the number of women who die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Millennial women are twice as likely to die during childbirth compared to their mothers.
The authors offer several explanations for rising maternal deaths:
- Abortion policies became more liberal in the 1970s, but many states have since passed restrictive regulations that make it harder for women to access reproductive health care.
- Growing diversity within our country has resulted in more pregnancies among women of color, who are less likely to have access to health care resources.
- The health field has made several advances in improving fetal and infant health but has not focused on health and well-beings of mothers.
The study’s authors note that to accelerate women’s progress, our country needs to put a much heavier focus on providing resources to the women who need them. As the study’s co-author, Beth Jarosz, explains: “too many women lack the resources and supportive environments they need to live healthier lives and achieve their full potential.”
Brittany L. Stalsburg is the owner of BLS Research & Consulting, a research and strategy firm that generates actionable insights to create innovative strategies for organizations, brands, and companies. Her work focuses on progressive issues, especially those that affect women and families.