White House releases major national report on women, first document in 50 years

March 1 2011

In celebration of the first day of Women’s History Month, this morning The White House released the first comprehensive national report on women since 1963, when President Kennedy teamed with Eleanor Roosevelt to evaluate the lives of women in America. The goal of the report, titled WOMEN IN AMERICA: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being? To highlight to the public and the administration how the lives of women are changing and to point to the actions and policies that are most needed to achieve long-term gender equality.

“This report will be inordinately useful in our understanding of how far women have come—and what must still be done,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, on a call this morning to discuss highlights of the publication.

Critical areas of the document include a section titled “People, Families and Income” which look at the shifting demographics of American households, delays in the age of marriage and childbearing for women as well as inequalities in poverty between men and women, Education, Employment, Health and Crime and Violence. The data informing the study was aggregated from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, National Center for Education, National Center for Health and the National Center for Science and Engineering. Highlights from the report, which can be read in full here, are categorized into these areas of findings and include:

-Marriage is being delayed: both men and women are marrying about five years later than they did in 1950. Since 1972, the percentage of women who are married declined from 72% to 62%.

-Women are more likely to live in a state of poverty than men. In 2009, 28% or working women with children who were unmarried had incomes below the poverty line.

-Women’s college degrees are on the rise. In 2007-2008 women earned about 57% of all degrees and constituted 57% of total enrollment. However, they earn less than half of all bachelor’s degrees in mathematical and physical sciences and 20% of computer and engineering degrees.

-At all levels of education, women earned about 75% of what their male counterparts earned in 2009

-In 2009, nearly one-fifth of all women were employed in just five occupations: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers, and nursing aides.

-Women are more likely than men to experience obesity, arthritis, depression and asthma. But the share of non-elderly women with no health insurance has increased by five percentage points since 1984. 18% of women are uninsured.

While the numbers are surprising on their own, we have heard many before as the individual agencies involved released this information. The real power, according to the agencies responsible for the report, is in reviewing the information together. “The story here is looking at all of this data together to show how women and their lives are changing,” says Acting Deputy Secretary at the Department of Commerce Becky Blank.

Both Blank and Jarrett stress that collating information from the various agencies has been an undertaking supported by the Obama administration. “Our goal and the president’s direction to us is to be evidence based—we want to be able to point to empirical data,” said Jarrett on the call. “Given the financial challenges we have in the federal government, it’s imperative that we spend our money smartly.” The statistics and data presented in today’s report are hoped to help politicians and policymakers to bolster their arguments in support of progressive policy to better the lives of women in the U.S.

When pressed, Jarrett and Blank both pointed to initiatives by the Obama administration the program supported by PowerWomen and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns to encourage girls to pursue educations in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) careers as signs of commitment to improving educational and employment for women.

Download the full Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being at the Council on Women and Girls’ website.

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