In Almost Every U.S. State, Women Are More Likely to Experience Poor Mental Health, but Less Likely to Die from Heart Disease and Breast Cancer, than a Decade Ago

Health Behaviors, Mortality from Chronic Disease, Access to Reproductive Health Care, and Exposure to Violence Vary Widely by State and Race/Ethnicity

Almost 1 in 3 Women Experiences Domestic Violence; Girls More Likely than Boys to Be Bullied

May 7, 2015
Contact: Jennifer Clark,, 202.785.5100

Washington, DC—New data released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), as part of its Status of Women in the States: 2015 series, finds wide disparities across the states and among racial/ethnic groups when it comes to women’s health and safety. IWPR graded each state and the District of Columbia on Health & Well-Being and Reproductive Rights, and analyzed state and national data on Violence Against Women.

The best ten states for women’s health are all in the Western, Northeastern, or Midwestern parts of the country, with Minnesota, Hawaii, and North Dakota receiving top marks on the Health & Well-Being index. Four of the bottom five states—Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas—on this index were in the South. Oregon received the highest score on the composite Reproductive Rights index. The state’s top ranking is a substantial improvement since the last time the composite was calculated in 2004, when it ranked 19th. IWPR also found that many women and girls in the United States experience intimate partner violence and abuse, rape and sexual assault, and bullying.

Since 2004, women’s health has improved on four key indicators. Women’s mortality rates from heart disease, lung cancer, and breast cancer have declined, and the incidence of AIDS among women has decreased 44 percent. But health outcomes are not distributed evenly by race and ethnicity. Black women are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease, and nearly three times as likely to die from breast cancer, as Asian/Pacific Islander women, the group with the lowest rates. White women have the highest lung cancer mortality rate and are three times more likely to die from lung cancer than Hispanic women, the group with the lowest rate. Incidence rates of AIDS for black women are nearly six times higher than the rate for all women, and over twenty times higher than the rate for white women; black women are also twice as likely as white and Asian/Pacific Islander women to get tested for HIV (about 60 percent of black women have been tested, compared with only about 30 percent of white and Asian/Pacific Islander women).

In the last decade, the health status of women overall has declined on the incidence of diabetes (49 percent increase since 2002) and chlamydia (37 percent increase), rates of suicide mortality (35 percent increase between 2001 and 2013), and rates of activity limitations due to mental or physical health status (31 percent between 2000 and 2013). Women are more likely to experience a greater number of poor mental health days per month than they did in 2000, with an increase from 3.8 to 4.3 days per month. In every state in the country, women are more likely than men to experience poor mental health. Millennial women report having nearly five days per month of poor mental health. Native American women experience a far greater number of poor mental health days than white women (6.3 days, compared with 4.2 days per month).

“Good health is critical to women’s financial stability, educational attainment, and employment,” said IWPR President and MacArthur Fellow Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “It is great news that we have seen significant improvements in women’s mortality rates from some chronic diseases, but to improve women’s mental health and ensure that improved health outcomes extend to all women across race, ethnicity, and geography, we need to do more.”

Health behaviors—such as exercising, eating enough fruits and vegetables, drinking, and smoking—vary considerably by state. Fewer than half of women in United States report exercising at least 150 minutes per week, and women in Oregon (64.6 percent) are nearly twice as likely to exercise as women in Mississippi (33.1 percent). Women in Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia are the least likely to eat a healthy amount (five or more servings) of fruits and vegetables daily. Women in the District of Columbia are the most likely to binge drink, and while women in West Virginia are the least likely to binge drink, they are the most likely to smoke.

Nearly one in three women experiences physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime. More than one in eight teenage girls who dated or went out with someone in the past 12 months experienced physical dating violence, and one in seven girls experienced sexual dating violence. Nearly one in five women in the United States is raped at some time in her life, and four in five female rape victims were first raped before the age of 25. Among the 32 jurisdictions for which data are available, high school girls in Hawaii, Nevada, and Illinois are the most likely to report having experienced sexual dating violence (18.4, 17.1, and 16.7 percent, respectively). Girls in the District of Columbia (10.5 percent), Kansas (11.6 percent), and Rhode Island (12.0 percent) are the least likely.

Experience with violence varies by race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Over half of Native American and multiracial women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, compared with less than one in three white and Hispanic women, and less than one in five Asian/Pacific Islander women. Nearly half of bisexual women (46.1 percent) report having experienced rape, 74.9 percent report having experienced sexual violence other than rape, 36.6 percent say they have been stalked, and 61.1 percent report having experienced intimate partner violence. Among lesbian and heterosexual women, the prevalence of these forms of violence is considerably lower.

More young women than young men experience bullying. Almost one in four girls, compared with one in six boys, reports experiencing bullying at school. Girls are also more than twice as likely as boys (21.0 percent of girls, compared with 8.5 percent of boys) to say they have been bullied through electronic means (e-mail, chat rooms, websites, instant messaging, and texting). High school girls in Montana and Missouri have the highest reported rates of bullying at school (30.5 and 30.4, respectively).

The Reproductive Rights composite index analyzes indicators and policies on access to abortion and contraception, same-sex couples’ parental rights, infertility coverage, and sex education. In general, reproductive rights are strongest in the Northeast and the West. Northeastern states also performed well on the women’s Health & Well-Being composite index. The South and Midwest fare the worst on the reproductive rights composite index. States in the South also receive lower scores on other indices in the Status of Women in the States: 2015 series, including Health & Well-Being and Poverty & Opportunity.

Health & Well-Being, Reproductive Rights, and Violence & Safety are the latest in a series of releases from the Status of Women in the States: 2015 report, which uses a variety of data sources to measure and tracks trends in women’s status over time. The report and additional data on millennial women, older women, and LBGT women are available on the website (, along with detailed breakdowns by race/ethnicity. The Status of Women in the States, a project of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research since 1996, also covers: Employment & Earnings, Poverty & Opportunity, Political Participation, and Work & Family. The project is supported by the Ford Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Women’s Funding Network, as well as other foundations and organizations.