Sisterhood Blog

What a White House Study on Women Says About Birth Rates, Salary Gaps

By Elissa Strauss

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The White House released a comprehensive report today on the state of women in America, the first report of its kind in nearly 50 years. The information in the report isn’t new, but rather a compilation of a wide-range of studies that together provide an aerial view of the progress, and lack of progress, made by women over the past five decades.

I broke it down into good news and bad news. I am starting with the good. (Note: Good news, to me, means an increase in life choices and opportunities available to women. I am not, for example, saying fewer children is good news; but that more women feel that they can choose whether or not to have children is definitely a positive change.)

Here’s the good news:

bullet points taken directly from the report

• Women are marrying later and have fewer children than in the past. A greater proportion of both women and men have never married, and women are giving birth to their first child at older ages.

• More women are remaining childless, although eight out of 10 adult women have children.

• As the baby boom generation ages, a growing share of women — and men — are older. Because women live longer, women continue to outnumber men at older ages.

• Women’s gains in educational attainment have significantly outpaced those of men over the last 40 years. Today, younger women are more likely to graduate from college than are men and are more likely to hold a graduate school degree. Higher percentages of women than men have at least a high school education, and higher percentages of women than men participate in adult education.

• Educational gains among women relative to men can be seen across racial and ethnic groups and this trend is also present in other developed countries.

• Life expectancy has increased over time for both women and men; however, women continue to live longer than men.

• Women continue to have a lower incidence of heart disease than men and are less likely than men to suffer from diabetes.

• Women are less likely than men to be victims of crime. As overall crime rates have fallen in the United States, the likelihood of victimization has declined.

• The probability of being a victim of a violent crime (assault, robbery, or homicide) has declined among both men and women in the last two decades.

• Attacks on women by their intimate partners have fallen since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, although women are still much more likely to be victimized and injured by this type of violence than are men.

• Although rape is considered to be underreported, reported rape rates have declined over time. The majority of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, primarily an acquaintance.

And here’s the bad news:

• In 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $657, or about 80 percent of the $819 median for their male counterparts. In 1979, the first year for which comparable earnings data are available, women earned about 62 percent as much as men. After a gradual rise in the 1980s and 1990s, the women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio peaked at 81 percent in 2005 and 2006.

• Although more adult women live in married-couple families than in any other living arrangement, an ever-growing number of women are raising children without a spouse.

• Women are more likely to live in poverty than are adult men. Single-mother families face particularly high poverty rates, often because of the lower wages earned by women in these families.

• Despite these gains in graduation rates, differences remain in the relative performance of female and male students at younger ages, with girls scoring higher than boys on reading assessments and lower on math assessments.

• These differences can be seen in the fields that women pursue in college; female students are less well represented than men in science and technology-related fields, which typically lead to higher paying occupations.

• The participation of women in the workforce rose dramatically through the mid-1990s, but has been relatively constant since then.

• Workforce participation among men has declined, but women are still less likely to work in the paid labor force than are men. When women do work, they are much more likely than men to work part-time.

• Women continue to spend more of their time in household activities or caring for other family members; they also do more unpaid volunteer work than men.

• Despite their gains in labor market experience and in education, women still earn less than men.

• In part, this is because women and men work in different occupations, with women still concentrated in lower-paying and traditionally female occupations.

• Because women earn less and because two-earner households have higher earnings, families headed by women have far less income than do married-couple families.

• Working women spend their days somewhat differently than do working men. In 2009, on the days that they worked, employed married women age 25–54 spent less time in labor market work and work-related activities than did employed married men in the same age group — 7 hours and 40 minutes, compared to about 8 hours and 50 minutes. However, these employed wives spent about 40 minutes more time than did their male counterparts doing household activities such as cooking, housework, and household management.

• Women are disproportionately more likely than men to be affected by certain critical health problems, including mobility impairments, chronic health conditions such as asthma, arthritis, or depression. Women are less likely to be physically active and are more likely to be obese. Females age 12 and older are more likely than males to report experiencing depression.

• Women generally use the health care system and preventive care more than men, but many women still do not receive recommended preventive care such as pap smears or flu vaccinations.

• The share of both adult women and men without health insurance has increased over time. People with insurance are much more likely to have a doctor or other medical professional who provides regular care; one out of seven women have no usual source of health care.

• Females made up 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner in 2007, a proportion that has changed very little since 1993. Intimate partners were responsible for 3% of all violence against males and 23% of all violence against females in 2008.

• Women are at far greater risk than men for stalking victimization.

• Women are more likely to commit crimes now than in the past, although women who commit crimes are more likely to be arrested for nonviolent property crimes compared to male criminals whose crimes are more likely to involve violence.

• During the past two decades, imprisonment rates have risen for both men and women, although the share of women in prison is still much lower. Like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic women are much more likely to experience imprisonment than white women. Many imprisoned women have minor children.


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