Spotlight on Millennials
The millennial generation has come of age in difficult economic times—in a period where student debt reached all-time highs and employment opportunities were in short supply. Research indicates that in 2013, the average loan debt among bachelor’s degree students graduating with debt from public and private nonprofit colleges was $28,400 (Reed and Cochrane 2014).
In the face of difficult economic times, millennial women—defined here as those aged 16–34 in 2013—are pursuing many different career paths and jobs. Much like their older counterparts, however, they face a range of challenges in the workforce.
- Nearly seven in ten (67.8 percent) millennial women (aged 16–34) are in the workforce, compared with 73.1 percent of their male counterparts.
- Millennial women and men have been highly vulnerable to unemployment: 11.6 percent of millennial women and 12.5 percent of millennial men were unemployed in 2013, which is well above the unemployment rates for women and men overall.
- Millennial women face a gender wage gap, albeit one that is narrower than the wage gap between all women and men. In 2013, the median annual earnings for millennial women working full-time, year-round were $30,000, compared with $35,000 for their male counterparts, resulting in an earnings ratio of 85.7 percent. Between 2011 and 2013, millennial women earned less than millennial men in all but one state, New York, where women of this age range earned $38,319 compared with $37,542 for men (Table B2.2). For both millennial women and all women, New York is the best state for the gender wage gap, and the District of Columbia has the highest earnings.
- More than one in three (34.2 percent) millennial women work in managerial or professional occupations, compared with one in four (25.4 percent) millennial men.
- Millennial women are slightly more likely than millennial men to work in management, business, and financial operations (10.2 percent of employed millennial women compared with 9.7 percent of employed millennial men). Millennial women are also considerably more likely than their male counterparts to work in professional or related occupations (24.0 percent compared with 15.7 percent). As with older women, millennial women are much more likely than their male counterparts to work in service occupations (27.2 percent compared with 20.5 percent), and much less likely to work in construction or production occupations (5.4 percent of employed millennial women compared with 32.9 percent of employed millennial men).
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Millennial women —defined here as those aged 16–34 in 2013—are a well-educated cohort who nonetheless face the challenges of managing student debt and relatively high rates of poverty.
- More than one in five millennial women (22.4 percent) lives below the poverty line, compared with one in six (16.8 percent) millennial men (Appendix Table B4.5). Millennial women’s poverty rate is higher than the rate for adult women overall. Millennial women are most likely to be poor if they live in Mississippi (33.9 percent), and least likely to be poor if they live in Maryland (14.0 percent). Millennial women are of childbearing age and supporting children on their own definitely contributes to their high poverty rate.
- Millennial women aged 25–34 are considerably more likely than millennial men of the same age range to have a bachelor’s degree or higher (36.3 percent compared with 28.3 percent). This difference between millennial women’s and men’s education is much larger than the difference between women and men overall (29.7 percent of women and 29.5 percent of men overall have a bachelor’s degree or higher).
- Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, millennial women are the most likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree in the District of Columbia (71.3 percent), followed by Massachusetts (53.6 percent) and New York (46.6 percent; Appendix Table B4.5). Millennial women are the least likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in Nevada (24.5 percent), Mississippi (24.7 percent), and Arkansas (25.6 percent). In all states, millennial women are more likely than millennial men to have at least a bachelor’s degree, with the largest differences in Alaska (18.0 percentage points) and Vermont (16.6 percentage points).
- Many millennial women and men have substantial student debt. One study analyzing college affordability found that average undergraduate debt one year after graduation for students who have debt is higher for women than for men, among both those who have children and those who do not. For women with children, average debt is $29,452 compared with $26,181 for men with children; for women and men without children, average debt is $25,638 and $24,508, respectively (Gault, Reichlin, and Román 2014).
- Millennial women have higher rates of health insurance coverage than millennial men (79.2 percent compared with 72.8 percent), but lower rates of coverage than all nonelderly women and men. Coverage rates also vary among younger and older millennials: in the United States overall, women aged 16–25 (who under the ACA are allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan; U.S. Department of Labor n.d.) are more likely to have coverage than those aged 26–34 (80.6 compared with 77.5 percent).
- Health insurance coverage for millennial women across the states ranged from a high of 95.2 in Massachusetts to a low of 67.8 percent in Texas in 2013, prior to the full implementation of health care exchanges under the ACA (Appendix Table B4.5).
- Rates of uninsurance among millennial women under age 25 decreased dramatically following implementation of the ACA. The percentage of women aged 18 to 24 without health insurance decreased by more than a third, from 24.9 percent to 15.9 percent (Martinez and Cohen 2009 and 2015).
Data are based on IWPR analysis of American Community Survey microdata. Percent of millennial women and men with a bachelor’s degree or higher are three-year (2011–2013) averages; all other data are for 2013.
Millennial Women’s Health1
Establishing good health behaviors and practicing preventive medical care is critical to millennial women’s ability to maintain good health as they age.
- Only about half (49.4 percent) of millennial women in the United States get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity (such as running, calisthenics, gardening, or walking for exercise) outside of their jobs. Oregon has the largest percentage of young women who report getting this much exercise at 67.7 percent, and Tennessee has the smallest percentage at 35.5 percent.
- Approximately one in five millennial women (19.9 percent) report that they eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Millennial women in Oregon are most likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, but even in this best-ranking state only about 27 percent of young women consume this amount of fruits and vegetables. In West Virginia, the worst-ranking state, about one in ten young women (10.5 percent) report that they eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- One in five millennial women (20.0 percent) say they have engaged in binge drinking (defined for women as drinking four or more drinks on one occasion) in the past month. The percentage of women who have engaged in binge drinking varies from a low of 11.0 percent in Utah to a high of 31.6 percent in the District of Columbia. Nationally, more than one in three millennial men (35.0 percent) report having engaged in binge drinking (defined for men as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion).
- Millennial women report having, on average, 4.9 days per month of poor mental health, compared with 3.6 days for millennial men and 4.3 days for women overall. Millennial women report the highest average number of days per month of poor mental health in Arkansas (6.5) and the lowest in New Jersey (3.7; Appendix Table B6.7).
- Nearly half of young women (46.5 percent) in the United States are overweight or obese, defined as having a body mass index of 25 or greater. Young women are the most likely to be overweight or obese in Mississippi (58.1 percent), Alabama (56.2 percent), and West Virginia (54.6 percent). They are least likely to be overweight or obese in Colorado (36.5 percent), Massachusetts (38.2 percent), and Utah (39.5 percent; Appendix Table B6.11).
- More than nine in ten young women in the United States (94.0 percent) say they have had a pap test in the past three years. They are most likely to have had the test if they live in Massachusetts (97.6 percent), Iowa (96.7 percent), or Maryland (96.5 percent), and least likely to have done so if they live in Idaho and Arizona (87.0 percent each) or in Utah (89.7 percent).
Data are based on IWPR analysis of Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System microdata (IWPR 2015b and 2015c). Data for the United States overall are for 2013; all other data are three-year averages (2011–2013).
1“Millennials” here include women and men aged 18–34; analysis of the health of millennials is based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, which is conducted among adults in the United States aged 18 and older. This definition of millennials differs slightly from the definition in IWPR’s Status of Women in the States 2015: Employment and Earnings and Poverty and Opportunity reports, which defined millennials to include those aged 16–34.