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By Juliana Stebbins*
On March 4th, the Center for American Progress invited an array of policy experts and policymakers to discuss the new White House report Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being. Written by the Office of Management and Budget and the Economics and Statistics Administration within the Department of Commerce, this report paints a statistical portrait of women in modern society. With data from 5 state agencies, Women in America provides a concise picture of where women stand in families, education, employment, health, and violence.
Tina Tchen (Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls), Rebecca Blank (Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce), and Barbara Gault (Executive Director and Vice President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research) articulated how statistics from each of these 5 areas intertwine and complement each other to create a comprehensive understanding both of the progress women have made over the last few decades as well as the gendered gaps the United States continues to face.
Some of the most significant changes women have experienced since the mid-1990s are patterns within the family. On average, women are delaying the typical age of marriage as well as the age of having their first born child. This shift within the family is not surprising when put into context with the report’s section on education. Over the last 40 years, women’s educational achievements have surpassed those of men. More and more women of all races and ethnicities are pursuing higher education degrees, which explains in part the delays of marriage and having children.
Education trends additionally help illuminate some of the reasons the gender wage gap persists. Although women’s educational attainment has risen, they continue to be underrepresented in such fields as STEM and consequently excluded from many higher paying professions. Furthermore, the growth of women’s participation in the work force has stalled since is 1990’s boom, and women are not obtaining leadership roles in significant numbers. The report also confirmed that the second shift is alive and well for most women, while men’s work is generally confined to the office, giving them more leisure time during the week.
These disparities in labor force participation and leisure time explain differing health challenges men and women face. While men are more likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes, women suffer more from chronic illnesses such as depression and obesity. The hardship of work and home fatigue in combination with the mental stress from the prevalence of stalking (as indicated in the violence section) clarifies why women are more susceptible to chronic sickness.
Even with these stark numbers, the report provides an abundance to celebrate. The U.S. is seeing an increase of women business owners, women’s educational attainment is rising at all levels, and reports of domestic violence are decreasing.
As the panelists at CAP pointed out, however, there is a continued need for deeper research. We must find out how to increase women’s leadership in both the private and public sectors, especially in STEM fields if the United States is going to be a competitive figure at the forefront of innovation, as President Obama has repeatedly stated. We must explore how women, and men, are incorporating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into their lives. Do women know the leave they are eligible for? Are women taking time off work? If so, why and are they receiving financial supplements?
Findings from Women in America demonstrate the necessity of reorganizing workplaces in recognition of the changing workforce. We must learn from this report and continue to dig deeper. To change societal norms and inequalities we must first fully understand them.
*Juliana Stebbins is a Research and Programs Intern with the National Council for Research on Women.