The State of American Women: Realities and Myths

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Thursday, June 20, 2002

By Heide Seward, Research Fellow

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recently released the first of what is to be an annual comprehensive report on the health of American women. Women’s Health USA 2002, published by HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, offers a user-friendly compendium of information about the health of American women and their utilization of available health care services, as well as general demographic information, compiled from a number of government sources. The report is billed by HHS as part of the Bush Administration’s effort “to promote better health among women nationally,” including a request to increase funding for the HHS Office on Women’s Health from $2.1 million to $29.1 million in fiscal year 2003, and plans to expand funding for further research on women’s health at the National Institutes of Health.

Among the more encouraging highlights of the report: American women are very conscientious about preventative medicine. In fact, they are more likely than men are to practice good preventative care. In 1998, 79 percent of American women had received pap smears in the past 3 years, and 67 percent had received mammograms within the past 2 years. In 2000, 67 percent of women reported having visited a dentist within the past year, although nearly one-third –32.1 percent –had not seen a dentist in over a year. Not surprisingly, the more educated the woman, the better her health. This is due in part to the fact that women with more years of education are more likely to be employed, and therefore more likely to have employer-provided health coverage. Women with 12 or more years of education were more likely in 2000 to report being in very good or excellent health than women with less than 12 years –67 percent versus 40 percent, respectively.

Unfortunately, the report also perpetuates a longstanding myth about women in the labor force. Namely, that women earned only 73.6 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is a gross oversimplification based on a comparison of average salaries of men and women in similar jobs. This myth has been used by radical feminists for years to plead the case that women are discriminated against in the workforce and to argue for quasi-Marxist wage-fixing schemes such as “comparable worth” policies. It does not account for market factors that influence the salaries of individual workers, such as individual decisions to work part time or to take time out of a career to raise children. In fact, for women with similar qualifications who follow similar career paths as men, there is no discrepancy in salary levels. This myth was refuted by Janice Crouse in BLI’s publication, Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the Twentieth Century, and by other serious scholars; including Christine Stolba and Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Independent Women’s Forum in their book, Women’s Figures.

It would not be surprising to see such a misleading statement in a document produced by a left-leaning feminist organization but to find it in a government document produced by a conservative administration is disheartening and shows how deeply entrenched the liberals are in the bureaucracy. This problem illustrates the problems facing a conservative administration with a liberal bureaucracy. Either someone wasn’t paying attention during the editing process, or the editor was simply ignorant of the facts about this issue. Either way, the report’s uncritical acceptance of long-since refuted myths like the male/female “wage gap” betrays slipshod scholarship and taints an otherwise useful resource.

Contributing to this article: Anne Stover, BLI’s summer intern.

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