Well-Being Level Improves for Baby Boom Women but Has Stalled for Later Generations

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The level of well-being of American women from the baby boom generation has risen, but that momentum has not carried over into subsequent generations, according to findings from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in a new report.

In Population Bulletin, “Losing Ground: Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations in the United States,” PRB presented an Index of Young Women’s Well-Being to compare outcomes for women in each generation.

The index is comprised of 14 social, economic and health measures. The results of the PRB finding show that the progress made by those in the baby boom generation (born 1946 to 1964) compared with the World War II generation (born 1930 to 1945) has not continued among women of Generation X (born 1965 to 1981) and the millennial generation (born 1982 to 2002).

The index tries to demonstrate 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.

“While some measures are improving, overall the index paints a picture of lost momentum,” said Beth Jarosz, a senior research associate at PRB and co-author of the Bulletin. “Too many women lack the resources and supportive environments they need to live healthier lives and achieve their full potential.”

Momentum has stalled or reversed on several key measures of well-being:

  • The proportion of women ages 30 to 34 living in poverty rose to about 17% for the millennial generation from about 12% 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 one in four workers in high-paying STEM occupations (jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields) were women in Generation X, but this has fallen to one in five for millennials.
  • The suicide rate for young women in the millennial generation climbed to 6.3 per 100,000 from 4.4 per 100,000 in Generation X.
  • Women’s incarceration rates have soared 10-fold between the World War II generation and millennial generation.

The PRB analysts identified some positive trends for young women:

  • 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 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.

The study says women still earn less than men in nearly every occupation and at every education level. In fact, women need to complete a higher level of education than men to achieve equivalent earnings.

PRB calculates an overall index score by comparing each generation with the preceding generation and taking into account the magnitude of improvement or decline.

Young women of the millennial generation experienced a slight decline (1%) in overall well-being compared with women of Generation X, and women of Generation X experienced only a modest gain (2%) in well-being relative to women of the baby boom generation. In contrast, women of the baby boom generation experienced a substantial gain (66%) in overall well-being relative to women of the World War II generation.