How Are American Women Doing?


March 8th is International Women’s Day. Celebrated around the globe, each year there is a different focus. For 2011, “Equal access to education, Training and science and technology, Pathway to decent work for women” are highlighted themes.

Given that the White House Council on Women and Girls recently released a comprehensive inter-agency report entitled, “Women In America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” this seemed like a great time to delve into the financial rise of women and wives here in America. So how are we faring? Three data points from the White House report jumped out at me:

  1. Wives generate 29% of total household incomes. Dig a little deeper in the report and you’ll find that 27% of women earn more than their husbands, and 57% of couples are dual income households. With women bringing home more of the bacon, when women are underpaid… entire families are hurt. The so-called “he-session,” where the majority of jobs lost were lost by men, has resulted in the issue of pay inequality moving from a “women’s issue” to everyone’s issue.
  2. Working women spend roughly one hour less a day on the job than working men and 40 minutes more a day on housework than men. When it comes to education, women have not only caught up with men, in many instances we’ve surpassed men. Among the 24-35 year old set, women have earned more college degrees and received more graduate education than men. Yet this has not translated into income equality. Why? Competing demands on time. My unscientific observation is that women are getting the same work done in less time… but that we often miss out on the kinds of “water cooler chats” that help establish relationships that move careers forward. And it’s not like we women love this arrangement. The White House report shows women in their peak earnings years have significantly higher depression rates in the report than men.
  3. One out of every five women work as nurses, nurses aides, teachers, secretaries, and cashiers. Did you know that the median income for a working woman in America is $35,000? The propensity of women to work in vital but lower paying fields combined with increased volunteer rates and part-time work relative to men hurts our earnings power. Another data point that really hit me was that women are 40% more likely than men to report having trouble walking – especially after age 55. That puts a serious damper on the notion that one way out of financial distress for women is working longer (Read “Working Longer As A Retirement Solution Has Its Flaws” from for more on his topic).

What’s the take away? While the state of women is improving, we’re not roaring with financial strength. Women are still more likely than men to live in poverty and the financial inequalities are even worse for women of color. There is no immediate magic bullet – but increased awareness of the current state of women is a key first step toward change. And Kudos to firms like Bank of America, Discovery Communications, IBM, General Mills, and PriceWaterhouse Coopers for their working women friendly policies. Financially healthy women are good for families, children, and society.


How do you think American women are faring financially?