Report: Millennials Are Poorer, at Higher Risk for Maternal Death

By Meghan Jusczak, Jane Crow Project Writer

WASHINGTON, DC – Today’s young American women are sliding into poverty at a sharply higher rate than previous generations, including a 37 percent increase among women in the key demographic of ages 30 to 34, an international research organization found. Counter-intuitively, this rapid increase in poverty rates occurred during the same era as women’s educational attainment and workforce participation also rose.

The June 12 report “paints a picture of lost momentum,” said Beth Jarosz, a senior research associate at Population Reference Bureau and co-author of the report. While some improvements have been made--increased rates of women in higher education and declining teen pregnancy and cigarette smoking rates--overall progress has stalled or deteriorated for the women between ages 16 and 34.

“Losing Ground: Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations in the United States” compared U.S. women’s well-being from 1945 to 2015, documenting trends in the lives of Millennials and their mothers and grandmothers:

In addition to these economic setbacks, “Losing Ground” also details surprising reversals for young women’s physical safety and healthy. Since the 1990s, rates of maternal mortality, suicide, incarceration and drug overdose death all increased rapidly, the bureau found.

The economic disadvantages hit women across levels of education:

·      Economic security has become less attainable since the mid-1990s, particularly for women without college degrees. Median earnings among women with at least a bachelor’s degree are 2.5 times higher than those of women who did not graduate high school, the report found.

·      Marriage rates also are decreasing rapidly among those without college degrees, creating a “marriage gap” based on educational attainment--further stratifying high- and low-wage female workers. In 2015, 40 percent of women between ages 25 and 34 in female-headed families with children were poor, in comparison to the poverty rate of 10 percent among young married-couple families with children.

·      Women of color remain disproportionately impacted by these economic disparities.

Even as economic insecurity increased, more U.S. women are enrolling in and completing college than ever--38 percent of Millennial women have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, in comparison to 12 percent of the World War II generation, their grandmothers. More American women enroll and graduate from college than men, but continue to earn less money than men at every education level, the report’s authors write.

While more young women are members of the workforce, occupational gender segregation--the concentration of genders in certain careers over others--persists. Fewer women (22.5 percent) enter high-earning science, technology, engineering and math occupations than they did 20 years ago (25.1 percent).

·     The higher maternal mortality rate for Millennials was one of the more surprising finding in the report. In comparison to their Baby Boomer mothers, who experienced a maternal mortality rate of 9.2 per 100,000 births, Millennial women die due to pregnancy complications more than twice as often (19.2). The report’s authors wrote that the growing number of maternal deaths indicate “substantial failings in the health system, such as lack of access to care and possibly inadequate treatment or discrimination in treatment.” They also noted that care for postpartum women has not paralleled improvements in infant care.

·      The American maternal mortality rate is now the highest among developed countries and higher than the rate in some developing nations. The rate among African American mothers and women with low levels of education paints an even grimmer picture, as these groups are disproportionately represented in U.S. maternal deaths: 50 black mothers die from pregnancy and delivery complications per 100,000 births in comparison to 16 deaths of white mothers per 100,000 births.

·      Suicide deaths among Millennial women occur at the highest rate since the World War II generation. This cannot be attributed to a greater number of suicide attempts, but rather young women shifting to more lethal methods of self-harm, such as suffocation (often through hanging), the authors wrote.  

·      Women’s incarceration rates also have skyrocketed, despite a decline in overall crime rates. Today’s young women are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than the World War II generation, according to the report. Women’s incarceration also is often linked to past trauma. The White House Council on Women and Girls called this the “sexual-abuse-to-prison-pipeline.”

·      Drug overdose death rates among women ages 25 to 34 tripled from 3 per 100,000 drug deaths in 1999-2001 to more than 11 per 100,000 in 2013-2015. Better education and treatment for addiction would not only reduce the number of deaths but also greatly impact the number of women incarcerated, the report’s authors argued.

Rita Henley Jensen