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)