Why Are Millennial Women Doing Worse Than Their Mothers?

Women today have more rights and freedoms than ever before. Sure, things aren’t perfect, but women outnumber men in earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees; the number of women in Congress continues to grow; and seventy countries have had a female leader.

So why are millennial women not doing as well as their mothers?

A recent report by the Population Reference Bureau found that millennial women’s “well-being” is worse than that of women in generations before them, as measured by their earning capacity, education, health, and the gender pay gap (note: this report did not study men, only women). And it’s not just women of any particular race or socioeconomic status—ALL women are doing worse.

Even though millennial women are the most educated generation and they smoke less and have lower teen pregnancy rates, “The report found that the proportion of women aged 30 to 34 years old living in poverty had increased to around 17% for the millennial generation, up from 12% for Generation X females. While Generation X women comprised 1 in 4 workers in high-paying STEM occupations, the statistic dropped to 1 in 5 for millennial females, according to the report.”

So what gives?

There are several different theories. With more college degrees and job opportunities, you would expect women to make up the bulk of the workforce. But many women with college degrees are now mothers, and the cost of daycare can be outrageously high, not to mention that most companies in the U.S. don’t offer paid maternity leave and many women don’t return to work after giving birth. In some places, daycare can be even more expensive than college tuition. I personally know several women whose jobs paid less than the cost of daycare, so it made more financial sense for them to quit and be stay-at-home-moms. Unlike what we’re constantly told, many women can’t actually “have it all.”

Another theory is student debt. I’m pretty sure I mention student debt in almost every single one of my articles about millennials because it has such a crippling impact on their opportunities. It’s impacting why millennials aren’t buying houses, why millennials are still living with their parents, why millennials are putting off getting married and the list goes on and on. And it could be impacting why millennials are making less money.

During my senior year of college, I started applying for jobs months in advance. But I got nothing, even though I was a severe #overachiever. I had to start paying back my student loans two months after I graduated, and that date was quickly approaching with no job in sight. Lots of millennials were joining the workforce right after the recession, which meant there were fewer jobs and if you were lucky enough to get one, you were likely paid less than the previous generation. This is playing a big part in the 37 percent increase in millennial poverty rates.

After many, many applications, I was finally offered an internship that wasn’t in the field I wanted to be in, but I was so desperate for a job that I took it. It was a low-paying internship that turned into a low-paying job (and unlike many women, I did negotiate for a higher salary), but at least I could start paying back my student loans. I know of several people who took the first internship or job they were offered, even if it paid less than it was worth, just because they needed to start paying back student loans. If I had time to apply for better paying jobs, I would have passed on that low-paying internship and waited for a better opportunity and I would be making more money now.

So how can millennial women have better lives? Heck if I know. I’m constantly treading water every day just to stay afloat, and I’m definitely not the only one. I want to go back to school for a master’s degree and pursue my dream career like I’ve been told is my right as a woman in today’s advanced times, but my $40,000 student debt (not including interest) will be weighing me down for years to come. And buying a house? I don’t see that happening in the next ten or maybe even twenty years.

This isn’t the oft-maligned “millennial whining;” I’m not asking for a handout and I choose to live within my means so I can try to save for the future. I’m trying to make the best of the situation I (and many other millennials) am in. Many millennials faced different circumstances than past generations, so even though we do have more opportunities and rights, things like soul-crushing student debt and the post-recession job market are making things more difficult. I just hope that the economy is better for future generations of women.

Image: By David J. LaPorte (CC)

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10 responses to “Why Are Millennial Women Doing Worse Than Their Mothers?

  1. I graduated with $78k in debt in 1993.
    I managed to marry, buy a house, get a job, have children, buy a car and pay my debts immediately.
    I wish that i had known that student loan debt was an all encompassing excuse, although if I had I likely would have turned out like a millenial.

  2. You don’t tell us what degree you have or the field you work in. But too many millenials have worthless degrees, and overinflated sense of their abilities and entitlements. If you’re the overachiever you say you are (I suspect it’s just one of the words on your participation trophy) start your own business.

  3. The reality is that the bubble had to burst at some point and millennials just had the misfortune of being born in the era where the chickens in the wild ride of capitalism have come home to roost.

    So the real question is will those millennials who see no options for a future better than or even equal to their parents decide they want to find a better way for America than the unfettered greed and sanctioning of massive inequality that got us here, and embrace the ways of more progressive societies?

    Believe me, that’s the best thing you all could do for yourselves and the future of our country, not get another $100k degree.

    1. Ah yes, the evils of capitalism. But you fail to mention that there’s a alternative just a few hours flying time away. That’s the socialist paradise of Venezuela, where evil capitalism has been put down. Indeed, it is such a marvelous travel destination that our State Department has this to say:

      “The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to violent crime, social unrest, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.”

      “Venezuela has one of the world’s highest crime rates, including one of the highest homicide rates. Violent crime – including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking – is endemic throughout the country.”


      Yes, it does appear that in Venezuela the “wild ride of socialism has come home to roost.” Some have been warning about that for years.

      1. Michael, I have an inkling that you’ve never noticed that the USA is 16th on the economic freedom index–a measure of the most economically free nations (capitalism at it’s best). What are the better countries? One with better social systems enacted by their governments.

        Other societies are doing it better, and as Americans, we owe it to ourselves to stop seeing everything through eminence-based principles and start asking what other countries do that are creating more equal, just, and FREE societies. I would love if you joined me.

  4. This is a strange article, a most strange one. Aside from the opening remarks about the data discussed only looking at women, there’s no mention of men in any of their roles. A search for “marriage,” “husband,” and “spouse” didn’t turn up a single mention. The article devotes an lengthy paragraph to child care issues, but never mentions a “father.” Have millennial women discovered virgin birth? I think not.

    Could millennial women be sliding downhill economically because, unlike their mothers much less the generations before that they’ve failed to find a man willing to share responsibilities with them over the long-term? That’s certainly an important issue, but not one this most strange of articles even mentions much less takes seriously.

    And keep in mind that a generation ago, assuming the a woman’s well-being, particularly as a mother, was universally regarded as being as heavily dependent on her having a man helping her much as a as a man needs a woman is his role as a father.

    And this understanding is nothing new. In the mid-1980s, I worked on the Hem-Onc unit of a top-ten children’s hospital caring for kids with leukemia. That imposes enormous stress on a family and it was obvious to me that intact, two-parent families coped far better than single-parent ones. Funerals for children that died illustrated that quite well. Every funeral for a child that I attended was for a child in a two parent household. Single mothers might be able to cope—just barely—with the illnesses itself. But if their child died, planning a funeral was too much. They were burned out.

    And yes, in illness after illnes, i saw two parent households split the labor. The father continued to work while the mother devoted all her time to the child. What is the Julia Dent who wrote this article going to do about that? Is she going to demand some federal sick-child-in-hospital program to make up for that AWOL father? Apparently.

    More and more, I’m coming to the conclusion that we live in an age where the loudest voices are those of fools unable to see the most obvious of facts. Assuming that children can be raised without a father in the home certainly fits that. Like I said, this article is strangely out of touch with life’s unalterable realities.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia

  5. As some commenters pointed out, there’s an absence of men in this article. Perhaps, the writer wanted to convey that a man wasn’t needed? I’m not sure. But even if there was an article of this caliber about men “doing worse,” it would be erroneous not to mention women in their lives. We need each other. Even the Bible says than humans arent’ meant to be alone.

    When I read the title of this article, I already knew what the answer was. But oddly enough, didn’t find it in the author’s article. The truth is, our generation has become so confusing and contradictory about what is socially acceptable or wanted in courtship that no one knows what to do anymore. If you’re a man, you’re afraid of a single sexual harassment allegation that can ruin your career. The controversy of that cat-calling video did irreparable damage to our social structure. And If you’re a woman, you’re already shy and timid about making the first more and approaching a man because traditionally it’s been the man’s role to initiate contact. Essentially PC and Social Justice Warriors are ruining our lives. Awareness is the first step to change.

  6. There wasn’t as much as a push towards education past high school in the millennial’s mother’s day. So they could start our lives without a large portion of debt. Many millennial’s don’t actively plan while they’re in college as to what they’re going to do after they graduate. Sometimes there’s an expectation that they will get a job as soon as they graduate, but the market it’s so competitive now that you have to market yourself and build your brand prior to graduation so people know who you are. A lot of people have the same qualifications so it’s harder to delineate between who is the best.

    Also, if you get a specialized degree in a specific field it’s harder to brand yourself across multiple areas of interest so it’s harder to get a job. Being able to market yourself in multiple career areas is key.

    You can also mention the glass ceiling of women consistently making less than man even with the same qualifications so sometimes it takes more time for a woman to reach a higher status and get out of poverty or debt when she’s not making the same amount of money as a man in the same field.

  7. I played by all the rules but I’m still not doing well. What gives?

    If things aren’t going well in your life it’s generally because you made poor decisions. Too many women go to college and major in something that is not going to pay well. Too many women rack up too much debt. Too many women ignore the marriage option for too long. Too many women get pregnant while not married. Naturally these decisions will lead to a poor outcome.

    Move out of the US and stop paying your student debt. Start over. I suggest Chile.

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