Women in America: less pay, longer life, more aches and pains

Women in America: less pay, longer life, more aches and pains

March is Women’s History Month, and to add to that history, the White House released an organized compendium of statistics on American women, focusing on their income, education, employment, health and their relationship to crime and violence. White House officials said this week that President Obama will be using this information to inform future policy decisions.

“[This report] is long overdue,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser and chairwoman of the White House Council on Women and Girls. “We understand that the success of women and girls is vital to winning the future.”

The report, titled Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being, is a collaborative effort of several federal departments prepared for the White House Council on Women and Girls. None of the data revealed in the report is new — and the most recently reported statistics are from 2009 or 2006 — but it is the first time such a report has been drafted since President John F. Kennedy commissioned one in 1963.

A lot of the information in the report is old news — for instance, women are still trailing men in economic earnings: At all education levels women earned 75 percent of what men make in 2009. But the report does add some interesting perspectives. For example, the jobs that women tend to go for and the majors they take in college, tend to be in humanities or social work, something Obama is hoping to change. Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank said in a phone conference Tuesday that the president will be encouraging young women to pursue the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Women currently make up 51 percent of the population; there are about 4 million more females than males in this country. And 57 percent of Americans over 65 are women. But though women still exceed men in life expectancy, they are likely to face more health problems and physical ailments down the road, particularly in the regions of mobility, obesity and depression; though figures point to a higher prevalence of heart disease and diabetes in men (14 percent of men 18 and older, compared with 10 percent of women).

About a quarter of women have reported arthritis and hypertension, with those figures increasing as women become seniors. And though less-educated women have reported higher rates of hypertension than more-educated women, among men, hypertension is not associated with education levels.

The report finds that women exercise less than men. Only about 41 percent of 25-year-old women said they participated in the federally recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, compared with more than half of 25-year-old men. And of all women, only 15 percent reported exercising the recommended amount. In 2009, about 25 percent of women said they ate fruits and vegetables five or more times a day. Almost one out of seven adult women smoked cigarettes every day.

Amid all the statistical figures one statement really stands out in summarizing women’s health:

“Women are almost 40 percent more likely than men to report difficulty walking.”

And that’s difficulty walking a quarter of a mile, or three city blocks. Walking trouble can point to arthritis, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, neurological conditions, near-blindness and other sensory limitations, and can “affect an individual’s ability to fully take part in all aspects of life,” according to the report.

And then, of course, there are different levels of walking difficulty among women, depending upon education and race:

* Women who did not complete high school (23 percent) were twice as likely to report difficulty walking than women who have had at least some college (11 percent).
* Non-Hispanic black women (18 percent) were more likely to report difficulty walking than Non-Hispanic white women (12 percent) and Hispanic women (11 percent).

From ‘Women in America,’ source National Center for Health Statistics

And even if the information is already out there, here are some, perhaps, surprising findings:

* In any two-week period, 8 percent of women and girls report experiencing clinically significant depression, compared with 5 percent for men and boys.
* Women make up two-thirds of graduates in the fields of humanities, arts, education, health and welfare but one-quarter of the graduates in science and technology.
* During the most recent recession, the unemployment rate among women over 20 rose from 4.4 percent to 7.7 percent; for men the unemployment rose from 4.4 to 9.9 percent.
* About 7 percent of women are severely obese. But 14 percent of non-Hispanic black women are obese, compared with 7 percent of Hispanics and 6 percent of white women.
* In 2008, intimate partners were responsible for 26 percent of all violence against women, compared with 5 percent of all violence against men. Of all Americans killed by an intimate partner, 70 percent were female, a percentage unchanged since 1993.
* The rate of rape against females over 12 (as defined by the National Crime Victimization Survey, which notes that between 2004 and 2008, police were not notified of nearly half of all rapes) declined by 60 percent between 1993 and 2000 and has remained at this level throughout the past decade.
* While male students are more likely to be victimized with weapons, female students are twice as likely to be electronically bullied as males.
* The number of women committing crimes is growing: Women made up 18 percent of all arrestees for violent felony offenses in 2008, up from 11 percent in 1990. The amount of women arrested for burglary or larceny grew from 25 to 35 percent.
* About 206,000 adult women were incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails in 2008.
* The number of women under community supervision or parole increased by 121 percent between 1990 and 2008: 1.1 million adult women were under community supervision on probation or parole in 2008.
* Homicide victims among black women dropped from 2,300 in 1993 to 1,200 in 2008. But for white women the figure remained steady during this same period of time at 2,200.

Officials stressed the point of the report is to draw a complete story of the American Woman, piecing everything we know about her to improve her well-being.

So what will the Obama administration be doing with this data? Should Americans expect to see new legislation, or at the very least, more discussion of women’s issues after Women’s History Month has turned into National Poetry Month?

Asked directly, Jarrett said: “[This report] will be a tool to help inform our policies and programs. Given the financial challenges, it is important we help spend our money wisely. … This report gives data that will help support that.”

As evidence to the president’s commitment to improving the “quality of life for women and girls,” Jarrett pointed out that Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls. And look, they got a report — which Jarrett said the administration plans to help them “do more with less.”

What that means exactly remains to be seen, but Preeta Bansal, general counsel and senior policy adviser at the Office of Management and Budget, was slightly less vague. She said Obama has made a vow to enact policies that are evidenced-based, and the same goes for this information on women. She said he will be looking at how well existing programs targeted at women — in the areas of health, education, unemployment, and violence — are working.

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Sofia Resnick

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