The level of well-being of young American women rose significantly for members of the Baby Boom generation but hit a wall in generations that followed, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) concludes.
In a PRB Population Bulletin, “Losing Ground: Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations in the United States,” analysts present a comprehensive new Index of Young Women’s Well-Being (covering ages 16 to 34). The results show how social and structural barriers to progress for young women in Generation X and the Millennial generation have contributed to women’s persistently high poverty rates, a declining share of women in high-wage/high-tech jobs, a dramatic rise in women’s incarceration rates, and increases in maternal mortality and women’s suicide.
Beware the danger of Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.
Feminism Lite uses analogies like “He is the head and you are the neck.” Or, “He is driving but you are in the front seat.” More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well.” No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a women’s well-being.
Feminism Lite uses the language of “allowing.” Theresa May is the British prime minister, and here is how a progressive British newspaper described her husband: Phillip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine.
Allowed. Now let us reverse it. Theresa May has allowed her husband to shine. Does it make sense? If Phillip May were prime minister, perhaps we might hear that his wife had “supported” him from the background, that she was “behind” him or that she’d “stood by his side,” but we would never hear that she had “allowed” him to shine.
“Allow” is a troubling word. “Allow” is about power. A husband is not a headmaster. A wife is not a schoolgirl. Permission and being allowed, when used one-sidedly — and it is nearly only used that way — should never be the language of an equal marriage. Another egregious example of Feminism Lite: men who say, “Of course a wife does not always have to do the domestic work; I did domestic work when my wife traveled.”
Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male that a powerful woman is an aberration. And so she is policed. We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Questions we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women. We judge powerful women more harshly than we judge powerful men. And Feminism Lite enables this.
At first glance, woman interrupted may seem like a small problem, but it reflects deeper issues of gender inequality at work and in society. Women struggle every day to get their space in the workplace and the right to express themselves. When they get there, manterrupting reduces their participation. Women want men to ask themselves: Am I doing this without even realizing it? After all, what’s the point of having more women in a meeting room if nobody hears what they have to say?
Momentum has stalled or reversed on several key measures of well-being:
- The proportion of women ages 30 to 34 living in poverty increased to about 17 percent for the Millennial generation from about 12 percent for Generation X.
- Young women in Generation X faced higher rates of maternal mortality than women of the Baby Boom, and rates are even higher for Millennial women.
- About 1 in 4 workers in high-paying STEM occupations were women in Generation X, but this has fallen to 1 in 5 for Millennials.
- The suicide rate for young women in the Millennial generation increased to 6.3 per 100,000 from 4.4 per 100,000 in Generation X.
- Women’s incarceration rates have grown 10-fold between the World War II generation and Millennial generation.
The PRB analysts also identified several positive trends for young women, even though these did not outweigh the negative trends in the overall index:
- Educational attainment has increased: Women’s high school dropout rate has fallen over time, while the share of women with at least a bachelor’s degree has increased.
- The gender gaps in earnings and in business ownership persist but have narrowed from one generation to the next.
- The teen birth rate is at an historic low.
- The share of young women who are smoking has dropped sharply among Generation X and Millennials compared with previous generations.
- The female homicide rate has fallen in each generation since the Baby Boom.
- While women remain underrepresented in Congress and in state legislatures, their share of legislators has increased with each successive generation.
“While some measures are improving, overall the index paints a picture of lost momentum. Too many women lack the resources and supportive environments they need to live healthier lives and achieve their full potential,” said Beth Jarosz, a senior research associate at PRB and co-author of the Bulletin.
“The share of women with bachelor’s degrees is at an all-time high, but these educational gains have not led to similar gains in the workforce or in political leadership,” said Mark Mather, associate vice president of PRB’s U.S. Programs department and a co-author of the Bulletin.
The Population Reference Bureau informs people around the world about population, health, and the environment, and empowers them to use that information to advance the well-being of current and future generations.