Young Women Today Have It Tougher Than Their Mothers.
Despite certain indicators of progress, women are struggling more than they did a few generations ago, in a few key areas.
While it’s certainly not inaccurate to say women have made strides over the course of the last generation in certain areas, a new study shows that progress is not as sweeping as the recent proliferation of feminist t-shirts might have you believe.
The Population Reference Bureau issued a report this month with some pretty bleak findings, the most overarching of which is that for young women (between 16 to 34), wellbeing rose significantly for the baby-boom generation, and then it hit a wall.
It's sobering: Women under 35 are currently more likely to be incarcerated, live in poverty, or die either by suicide or from pregnancy-related causes.
Let’s break down that last point first, because while they’re all deeply concerning, one would assume that the maternal mortality rate is something that correlates with progress in medical technology. From the baby boom generation to millennials, deaths per 100,000 women have gone from 7.5 to 19.2.
The study attributes this in part to legislation surrounding access to women's health care clinics. Laws put forth by the GOP in recent years have succeeded in shutting down clinics on a devastating scale. As the Huffington Post reports, between 2010 and 2013 alone, 50 abortion and women’s health clinics across the country were shut down.
Texas, one of the states hit hardest by these closures, saw their maternal death rate double from 2010 to 2012 in the wake of extreme regulations and funding cuts to women’s health clinics in the state. The report reiterates that this is due to policy rather than technology: “Improvements in fetal and infant care, designed to reduce infant mortality and improve child health, have not been paralleled by—and have sometimes come at the expense of—care for women in the postpartum period.”
A deeply concerning lack of support and resources factors in, too, with the increase in suicide rate, which has increased 43% over the last decade, and that increase especially effects white and Native American women. And in the midst of an ongoing opioid crisis, the rate of overdose has jumped from 2.9 per 100,000 in 2000 to 12.5.
It should be noted that there are of course areas where progress is being made. More women are completing high school and college, the gender pay gap is closing (even if it’s slow going), teen birth rates are down overall, and business ownership is on the raise (we see you, girl!), to name a few.
But still, these overall findings should set off some serious alarms, in large part because it’s not a headline we’re seeing very often. And that’s perhaps the more prescient point: For those of us who feel the winds of progress blowing at our back—who are coming fresh off a Wonder Woman screening ready to kick some ass—this is a good time to acknowledge what a privilege that feeling is.
This study and the one that came out on the inequalities faced by black women earlier this month both serve as a stark reminder that many, many women are getting left behind. Namely, women of color and women born into poverty, who face significantly greater struggles in gaining access to education, health care and other essential services providing the foundation that allows us to pursue our individual ideas of success.
It’s something to keep in mind as we pledge ourselves to women’s movements and the idea of "progress." It’s an easy word to get behind, but as these studies make clear, the effort must be comprehensive and inclusive. Meaningful progress means not only declaring your openness to the marginalized and voiceless, but actively seeking out ways you can bring them along with you.
Words by: Deena Drewis