Women's Health USA 2004

Women's Health USA 2004

Health Resources and Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Table of Contents | Preface | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Indicators in Previous Editions | References | Contributors | Viewers & Players


In this chapter:
U.S. PopulationU.S. Female Population by Race/EthnicityEducational Degrees Awarded to WomenWomen in Health Professions SchoolsWomen in the Labor Force | Women and Federal Program ParticipationWomen and Poverty


Population characteristics describe the diverse social, demographic, and economic features of women in the U.S. Representing slightly more than half of the Nation’s population, women and girls number approximately 144 million.

Analysis and comparison of data across sex, age, and race and ethnicity can be used to tailor the development and evaluation of programs and policies serving women’s health.

The following section presents data on population characteristics that affect women’s health. These factors include age, race, ethnicity, education, income, occupations, and participation in Federal programs.


Graph: U.S. Female Population, by Age, 2002[d]

The U.S. population surpassed 282 million in 2002, with females representing 51.1 percent of the total population. Females younger than age 35 accounted for 47.5 percent of the female population, those aged 35-64 years represented 39.0 percent, and females aged 65 years and older accounted for 13.5 percent.

The distribution by sex was fairly even across all age groups except among older persons, where women accounted for a significantly greater percentage of the population. Of those aged 65 years and older, women represent 57.8 percent of the total population.

Graph: U.S. Population, by Age and Sex, 2002[d]

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The growing diversity of the U.S. female population is reflected in the racial and ethnic distribution of women across age groups. The younger female population, under 25 years of age, is significantly more diverse than the older female population. The non White population represents 39.6 percent of females under 25 years of age, compared with 17.8 percent of females 65 and older. Of females under 25 years of age, 61.3 percent are non-Hispanic White, whereas among females 65 years and older, 82.5 percent are non-Hispanic White.

Graph: U.S. Female Population, by Age and Race/Ethnicity, 2002[d]

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The number of post-secondary educational degrees awarded to women has risen from 518,294 in 1969-1970 to almost 1.4 million in 2000-2001. Although the number of degrees earned by men has also increased, the growth among women has been much faster. Therefore, the proportion of degrees earned by women has also risen dramatically. In 1969-1970, men earned the majority of every type of degree, while in 2000-2001, women earned more than 50 percent of all associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, and earned almost half of all first professional and doctoral degrees. The most significant increase has been in the proportion of women earning a first professional degree, which has increased from 5.3 percent in 1969-1970 to 46.2 percent in 2000-2001. The total number of women earning their first professional degree in 2000-2001 (36,845) was 20 times greater than in 1969-1970 (1,841).

Graph: Degrees Awarded to Women, by Type, 1969-1970 and 2000-2001[d]


Graph: Degrees Awarded to Women, by Type, 1969-2001[d]

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Graph: Women in Schools for Selected Health Professions, 1980-1981 and 2001-2002[d]

The health professions have long been characterized by sex disparities. Some professions, such as medicine and dentistry, have historically been dominated by men, while others, such as nursing, have been predominantly female. Over the past several decades, these gaps have begun to narrow, and in some cases women have begun to outnumber their male counterparts. In 1980-1981, 47.4 percent of pharmacy students were women, while in 2001-2002 women represented the majority of students at 64.5 percent. Even in fields where men are still the majority, the representation of female students has grown. In 1980-1981, only 26.5 percent of medical students were women compared to 45.7 percent in 2001-2002, and in the same year women represented 43.1 percent of the student body at schools of osteopathic medicine. Similar gains have also been made in the field of dentistry, where 40.2 percent of students were women in 2001-2002 compared to only 17 percent 20 years earlier.

Female students represent the majority of students in a number of health professions schools, including social work (83 percent), public health (68.2 percent), podiatry (61.7 percent, not shown), and optometry (57.4 percent, not shown). Women also represent the vast majority of enrollees in dietetics programs — in the 2002-2003 academic year, 95 percent of dietetics students were women. Nursing con-tinues to be a field dominated by women, although the proportion of students who are female is slowly declining. In the 1980-1981 academic year, 94.3 percent of nursing students were female, while in 2001-2002, females constituted 90.4 percent of all master’s-level nursing students.

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In 2002, females ages 16 and older made up 46.6 percent of the workforce. Among working females,72.4 percent worked full time, compared to 87.3 percent of males. Females who were full-time wage and salary workers earned a weekly median of $530 while men earned a median of $680 per week, a ratio of 76 cents to one dollar. This ratio has risen from 63 cents in 1979, the first year comparable earnings data became available.

Graph: Representation of Females Aged 16 and Older in Occupational Sectors, 2002[d]

The ratio of females’ earnings to those of males differed considerably by age, race, and ethnicity in 2002. Women aged 45 to 54 earned only 74.6 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, while females aged 16 to 24 earned 93.6 cents for every dollar earned by males of the same age. Among Blacks and Hispanics, females earned 91 and 88 cents to every dollar earned by Black and Hispanic males, respectively, while White females earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. White workers of both sexes earned more than their Black and Hispanic counterparts; however, the differences among females were smaller than those among males.

The earnings of White females were greater than those of both Black and Hispanic females by 15.8 and 38.6 percent, respectively, while White males’ earnings were 34.2 and 56.3 percent higher than those of Black and Hispanic males. The earnings gap between the sexes continues to close, and females have fared better than males in recent years with respect to earnings growth. Both males and females with less than a high school diploma have experienced a decline in inflation-adjusted earnings since 1979; however, females’ earnings have fallen by only 7.2 percent compared to 27.2 percent for males. Among those with college degrees, earnings for women and men have risen 33.7 and 19.9 percent respectively since 1979.

Employment and earnings have significant implications for women’s health, as they are associated with access to health insurance and raise issues such as occupational safety and family-friendly work schedules.

Graph: Representation of Females Aged 16 and older in Earning Levels, 2002[d]

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Graph: Adult Recipients of Food Stamps, by Age, 2002[d]

Federal programs can provide low-income women and their families with essential help in obtaining food and income support. The Federal Food Stamp Program helps low-income individuals to purchase food; in 2002, 69 percent of all adult Food Stamp participants were women. Nearly half (46 percent) of women participants were in the 18-35 age group.

The Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) also plays an important role in serving women and families by providing supplementary nutrition during pregnancy, during the postpartum period, and while breastfeeding. Most WIC recipients (76 percent) are infants and children; however, the program also serves 1.8 million women, representing 24 percent of WIC participants. From 1992 to 2002, the number of adult women participating in WIC increased by 48 percent.

Graph: Women WIC Participants, Selected Years 1992-2002[d]

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is the Federal- and State-funded program that provides cash assistance and work opportunities to needy families. In 1996, TANF replaced the national welfare program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and related initiatives. The overarching goals of TANF are to move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance with a lifetime maximum enrollment of 5 years.

Graph: Female Recipients of TANF, by Age, Fiscal Year 2001[d]

In Fiscal Year 2001, adult TANF recipients numbered 1.4 million, of whom 1.27 million (90 percent) were women. Three-quarters of female TANF recipients were between 20 and 39 years of age. Among adult female TANF recipients, nearly 25 percent were employed, 47 percent were unemployed and looking for work, and 28 percent were not in the labor force (unemployed but not looking for work).

In 2001, the average amount of monthly assistance provided through TANF was $351 per family. Of TANF families who had earned income, the monthly earnings averaged $686.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another public assistance program that provides support to low-income people and people with disabilities. In 2002, 61.4 percent of adults receiving SSI payments were women. The majority of adult women receiving SSI payments were under age 65.

Graph: Adult Female Recipients of TANF, by Employment Status, Fiscal Year 2001[d]

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In 2002, there were 34.6 million people living with incomes below the Federal poverty threshold.1 The poverty rate for all women 18 years and older in 2002 was 12.3 percent (13.5 million women). Poverty rates vary by age group among women, with the youngest women aged 18-24 years reporting a poverty rate of 19.5 percent. The lowest poverty rate, 9.1 percent, was found among women aged 45-64. The poverty rate increases for women aged 65-74 to 10.8 percent and 14.1 percent for women aged 75 years and older.

Women in female-headed households with no spouse experienced higher rates of poverty (23.6 percent), whereas women in married couple families experienced lower rates of poverty (5.1 percent).

Graph: Women Living Below the Poverty Level, by Age, 2002[d]

Graph: Women, in Families*, Living Below the Poverty Level, for Selected Household Types, 2002[d]

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  1. The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is poor. If a family’s total income is less than that family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered to be poor. Examples of 2002 poverty levels were $9,183 for an individual, $11,756 for a family of two, $14,348 for a family of three, and $18,392 for a family of four.

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Table of Contents | Preface | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Indicators in Previous Editions | References | Contributors | Viewers & Players

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