Webinar: Losing More Ground: Can We Restore Generational Progress for Young American Women?

This webinar explores why, despite more education and higher earnings, Millennial young women in the United States are doing worse than their mothers and grandmothers did.

PRB and Young Invincibles brought together an expert panel to discuss the alarming findings from PRB’s new “Losing More Ground” report and explore how we can make good on the promise of generational progress for young American women.

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Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: I just want to welcome everyone. I am Jennifer Gerson. I’m a reporter at the 19th, an independent nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics, and policy. And I just want to thank you all for joining us today. I’m really excited about this webinar, which is being recorded, where you’ll learn more about the Population Reference Bureau’s new report, Losing More Ground Revisiting Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations.

First, Diana Elliott, who’s vice president of US programs at PRB, and Martha Sanchez, the director of health care policy and advocacy at Young Invincibles, will introduce their organizations and why they came together to present this webinar today. Next, we’ll review the report’s key findings. And then lastly, I’ll introduce our very impressive panel of experts and begin the Q&A.

If you experience any technical issues, please comment in the chat and we will try to help you resolve that as quickly as possible. And now I’d like to toss things over to Diana and Martha.

Diana Elliott, PRB: Thank you, Jennifer. And thank you also to everyone who’s joining us today. PRB is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research organization focused on improving people’s health and well-being through evidence-based policies and practices.

When we started the research for our new report, Losing More Ground, we knew from our previous 2017 report that young women’s well-being had stalled, but we didn’t expect the declines we see in the findings. Through original data analysis, we compare women ages 25 to 34, or the Millennial generation to same aged women of the Gen X, Baby Boom, and Silent generations. We find that generational progress has declined even further for millennial women in the intervening years. While Gen Z is not yet of age to include in our overall index, our analysis finds that teen girls ages 15 to 19 show early signs of both progress and decline relative to prior generations.

Much has changed since our original report. Since 2017, the US has had two new presidents, two impeachment proceedings for Supreme Court justices, widespread social and political movements, reckoning with racial disparities and health, safety and opportunities, the overturning of federal reproductive health protections, and the COVID-19 pandemic, to name only a few changes. Our findings show that women’s generational progress has been impacted by how the world has changed.

The findings in Losing More Ground have serious implications for the young women of today and tomorrow. And when we thought of how we could best draw attention to them, it was important to us to partner with an organization dedicated to young people’s well-being. We are pleased to co-host this event with Young Invincibles, and for Martha Sanchez to say a few words about this organization.

Martha Sanchez, Young Invincibles: Thank you. Diana. I’m Martha Sanchez, the director of health policy and advocacy at Young Invincibles. We are a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the economic well-being and empowerment of young adults ages 18 to 34 when it comes to their access to higher education, health care, workforce and finance opportunities, and civic engagement, all of which are issues that are touched by this report.

Um, so we are very excited and thankful to be here and grateful for everyone who is joining, especially the young adults who are highlighted in this report. I’m sure you all have plenty to say as well and contribute to this discussion, and we look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can move things in the right direction. Thank you.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: And now I believe, uh, Sarah Shrigley, who’s the research analyst at PRB, is going to share some of the key findings from the report.

Sara Srygley, PRB: Thank you, Diana. Thank you, Martha. Thank you, Jennifer, and thank you all for being here today. It’s something of a tradition, debates between the generations about who has had it worse. And this conversation comes around so reliably with each new generation that we may not always take it very seriously. But when young women today say that life is harder than it used to be, we now have the data to prove it.

The promise of generational progress has been broken for millennial women, and in many ways, Gen Z girls are already seeing similar trends as they near young adulthood. You can see in this figure that while Baby Boom women saw a sharp rise in overall well-being relative to the silent generation, their progress was more slight. For Gen X, it plateaued briefly for Millennials in 2017 and is now notably in decline.

So what’s happening to millennial women?

Despite all their efforts, today’s young women are faring worse as serious threats to their health and safety are driving this overall decline in their well-being. But let’s start with where things are going. Well. Millennial women graduate high school and attain bachelor’s degrees at rates far outpacing previous generations, making them more educated than at any point since at least the Silent Generation.

And Millennial women aren’t just more educated than ever. They’re also working hard to make gains in their professional lives. They’re more represented in high-earning and often competitive STEM fields and among business owners today than in previous generations.

And the gender wage gap has narrowed from one generation to the next, although it does still persist, as you can see here. It’s even more pronounced between women of color and white men.

When it comes to political representation, the share of women holding office in state and congressional legislation has increased with every generation. As Gen Z comes of age, we’re beginning to see a whole new generation taking a seat at the table of political leadership and civic engagement.

And young women today are also avoiding key risk factors to their health, like cigarette smoking, teen pregnancy at a higher rate than peers in previous generations.

So all of these data tell the story of a generation working hard to obtain their personal and professional goals. And despite all this progress and more, which is detailed in our report, why are Millennial young women still faring worse overall when compared with their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations?

A key part of this answer is difficult to accept: A young woman in the U.S. today, between the ages of 25 and 34, is more likely to die than at any point since at least the 1960s.

Maternal mortality rates have dramatically increased between Gen X and Millennial young women. In just a few years’ time, this rate climbed abruptly by nearly 60%. And women of color, particularly black women, are disproportionately impacted by these sharp increases.

And suicide rates have also risen, driven by increases for women of color. In fact, during the 2018 to 2021 time period, the suicide rate actually declined for white young women by about 6%. But disparities for women of color drove this overall pattern of worsening suicide rates.

Homicide rates, too, have taken an alarming turn for the worse, and there are racial disparities here as well. The increase has been particularly stark for Black young women, who are five times more likely to die by homicide than their white peers.

We’ve seen that young women today are doing many of the things they’ve been promised would lead to a better life, and these are things that worked in the past. Yet the evidence from our analysis shows that despite their best efforts, they still face very real challenges compared with previous generations in some of the most fundamental areas of life.

How we address these threats to millennial women’s well-being will set the stage for how Gen Z fairs as they reach their young adulthood, and whether they see a restoration of the promise of generational progress. Now I’ll turn things over to Jennifer to begin the Q&A.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, Sarah and Diana and Martha. I’m really excited to engage with the other members of our panel right now.

We are also joined today by Kara Brumfield, who is the Director of Income and Work supports at the Center for Law and Social Policy. And Doctor Jamelia Harris, Senior Director of Research at the Justice and Joy National Collaborative.

So I’m really excited to speak with you all and, um, about all the things that Sarah just shared with us. You know, when it comes to education, Sarah just talked about some real wins for Millennial women with high school dropout rates declining and bachelor’s degree attainment rising. But at the same time, we’re seeing overall well-being decline for this generation, both over the last few years and especially relative to other generations.

You know, Martha, I was wondering if you could start off for us. What do you make of knowing that more Millennial women are accessing more education, but still facing worse outcomes, especially when it comes to their health and mortality?

Martha Sanchez, Young Invincibles: Yeah. Thank you for this question. I think the report, um, highlighted, um, that it is still so important to attain higher education in this country. The average salary, uh, for a college diploma is around $61,000, compared to 21,000 for the high school diploma. Um, and so when I think about, though, the experiences of young Latinas like myself, um, and first generation, um, Latinas, um, I have to also consider the fact that many of these higher education institutions, really all of them were not built for us. And so the challenges that we face throughout these academic years, um, definitely influence, um, the health outcomes that we have throughout our higher education experience as well as afterwards when we graduate.

And we see that when it comes to our mental health as well as the financial outcomes, um, financially, even with a college degree, women earn less, um, than men. But women of color continue to earn much less than white woman or, um, white men. And so when you have these disparities, it’s going to affect our ability to build wealth, because we realize that we have to work ten times harder. Um, and even then do not really receive equality or equity when it comes to our earning potential and income.

But that also takes a toll on our mental health, because there were so many sacrifices made along the way from our parents and our family and ourselves to accomplish these goals, these milestones of college graduation, for example, that when we see the reality and when you face all of these challenges, um, it is very it definitely takes a toll on us. And I think an example of what we see on, on college campuses, uh, when it comes to mental health, you know, half of young adults 18 to 25 deal with, um, depression, depression or anxiety.

And in the report, it’s all young women. Um, for almost 40% of them deal with anxiety and loneliness. Um, but on college campuses, we don’t really have the resources. We don’t really have the counselors available. Um, the mental health resources. Why? I we are pushing for a federal designation of campuses that meet, um, a healthy mind standard of of providing resources to students, um, both when it comes to in-person or telehealth, uh, or peer to peer. Um, all of these resources would make a difference in their ability to actually cope with the challenges that before them, especially first generation Latinas and African American students, um, who need these, need these resources in order to actually thrive when it comes to higher education.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much for that. You know, to kind of continue this, take this to the next step, just like you were talking about. Martha, when we look at indicators where Millennial women are doing worse, we saw some pretty stark contrast between outcomes for white women and outcomes for women of color. You know, especially oftentimes when it came for black women and native and indigenous women.

Doctor Harris, I was hoping you could tell us about what this data tells us about how we understand equity in this conversation when it comes to understanding outcomes, and what kind of policies do you think could really help address this gap we’re seeing?

Dr. Jamelia Harris, Justice and Joy National Collaborative: Absolutely. And first and foremost, I want to thank the report authors for intentionally centering, uh, disaggregate lens that, uh, presents the data across race, age, and gender. And, and as a researcher, I don’t take that for granted, as oftentimes we see that, uh, there is an incomplete story when we don’t have this disaggregate this, this aggregate lens that, uh, really helps us to understand the particular challenges faced by girls and women of color in society.

And, uh, I want to just start out with foregrounding that a lot of the patterns of inequity that we see reflected in the report, uh, are really connected to deep seated histories of racial and gender inequality that girls and women of color have been facing for centuries. Discriminatory policies. Institutional practices have created deep-seated inequities across sectors, including education, health, the criminal legal system. And so, uh, some of the data points that we see, uh, that really are highlighting and illuminating the inequities that women of color, uh, face can really be contextualized by understanding this history.

And so I did want to flag a few data points that for me as a Black woman, uh, were particularly stood out, stood out as concerns of equity for women and girls of color. Uh, one of them being that black women saw a 16% increase in suicide rates during this time period. We also saw that even while educational attainment and incarceration rates improved among young women, overall gaps persisted based on race and ethnicity. And I think that these gaps that we’re still seeing, uh, for women of color, particularly for Black women and Indigenous women, really point to how the compounding of oppression due to race, age, gender create unique barriers and challenges for women of color and these data points also really underscore the necessity of what Black feminist scholars have long been calling, uh, as a need for us to prioritize intersectional lenses into the ways that we are addressing our policy solutions.

And so what that means is that our analysis, our policy solutions, should put the people who are the most vulnerable to being harmed by systems and structures due to their location at the forefront, um, of the initiative. And just as we can’t see these inequities without a disaggregate lens, we also cannot address, uh, the specific challenges that women of color are facing without a lens that addresses their race, their age, their gender, and the compounding effect that that has on their experiences in society. And so I would say that while we have a long way, um, while we have, I have to acknowledge many of the strides that this report presents.

We still have a long way to go until this vision of racial and gender justice are actualized. But that work must come from, uh, intersectional and intergenerational policy solutions that are for fronting the people who are most harmed by these systems and structures.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, Doctor Harris. It’s really important context to keep really top of mind in this conversation today. You know, to move this even, you know, forward even more. We just, like you were saying, talking about health and mortality components that we just heard about in the data, especially in terms of this really jarring increase in maternal mortality rates, in the suicide rates for women of color.

You know, to the whole panel, I was hoping to hear from, you know, anyone who wants to jump in, what relationship you see between the increase and the maternal mortality rate, the increase in suicide rates and the increase in homicide rates among millennial women, and whether we need to think about all these things as separate issues or how related these things are, especially when we start to break down the racial divide we see in the data.

Cara Brumfield, The Center for Law and Social Policy: I’m happy to start. Um, I think one through line there is definitely, um, mental health. And we know that millennials face really unique, um, challenges, including economic challenges like coming to age and entering the workforce during a recession. Really oppressive levels of student loan debt, housing costs, job insecurity. Um, all of these things, uh, create a really stressful, um, stressful life. And that weighs on your mental health. Uh, we also know that domestic and intimate partner violence and gun violence both increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social isolation, which Martha also mentioned. Um, and those things, of course, have mental health implications as well.

Um, and we also know that Millennials are experiencing just, uh, a unique set of social pressures. Um, we have delayed life milestones, like having children. So we’re having children later in our lives, which makes having children, uh, more risky from a health perspective. Um, but we’re also facing the dual pressures of society to make a family and be educated and have a successful career despite the economic environment that makes all of those things really hard to do. Uh, and, uh, you know, we have data that shows that pregnant women, 18 to 44, since about 2014 have shown, uh, 30% increases in major depression, hypertension, type two diabetes.

All these things are risk factors for maternal mortality. Um, but we can’t talk about maternal mortality without talking about the experiences of women of color, um, and women experiencing poverty, but especially black women who face systemic barriers to high quality care. Doctors do not take Black women’s pain seriously. And the data shows that wealth is not a protective factor for Black women when it comes to maternal health and mortality. Um, and we’re not really going in the right direction. So, for example, right now in Mississippi, which is one of the most dangerous places to give birth in the U.S. Um, officials are making changes. Officials are sort of failing to make changes to Medicaid that would allow pregnant people more timely access to prenatal care. And we know that that early access to care is really critical for health outcomes.

Martha Sanchez, Young Invincibles: Um, and I can add to this as well. Um, when we look at where we are today, we see that, um, there are policies at the state and federal level that are actively dismantling our ability to have agency over our own bodies and make decisions over our own health care, whether that is by straight out, um, bans on abortion across the country, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or by the fact that for many of us, we simply cannot afford our health care services, especially when it comes to mental health. Um, so, you know, there are multiple causes, um, and stressors that are affecting our mental health. Everything from these, uh, the, these policies and the lack of agency that we have over our bodies.

But then even when we take the most courageous steps someone can take, which is to ask for help when it comes to our mental health, we find that: A) we can’t afford it because who can really pay a $90 co-pay per session per week? That’s just not realistic financially. Um, and B) there are not enough, um, culturally competent mental health providers out there. And oftentimes insurance plans and companies get away with ghost directories. Um, which means that, you know, they’ll say that they have in-network providers within a 20-mile radius, and then you find out that actually they no longer take that insurers and no longer afford it.

Um, so we are really failing our women when it comes to protecting them, protecting their health, um, their ability to seek help, whether it’s reproductive care, abortion care or mental health.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, Martha and Cara. You know, while we’re kind of talking about these economic factors and the toll they can often play, I was hoping we can give some more context to folks on that.

And, Diana, I was wondering if you could tell us a little about what we’re seeing right now with kind of the state, you know, the state of the union of the economy. We saw poverty rates decrease during the pandemic, and they’ve recently bumped back up again at the same time, young women’s labor force participation is at an all-time high.

So, Diana, if you could just talk to us a little about what’s happened since the pandemic in terms of both women’s labor force participation and the poverty rates and the way you kind of saw that iterate in this data set.

Diana Elliott, PRB: Yeah. I mean, women’s labor force participation right now is at a high. Um, so, you know, I think it’s something on the order of 77.8% or so. Don’t hold me to that. Um, but it’s it’s at an all-time high right now, and or at least in recent memory. And one of the reasons for that is we have a really tight labor market right now. And, um, we have this scenario where employers are willing to be a little bit more flexible.

We don’t always have this situation, though, and certainly one of the things that holds us back in our in this country from women, particularly 25 to 34, from having even higher labor force participation, is our lack of a care structure, that we don’t have adequate supports for childcare in the way that other similar peer countries do is a problem, and we are at this critical juncture right now where funding and supports for child care that were there during the pandemic are about to disappear. And this means that certain subsidies that were in place that allowed, um, child care operations to continue and persist, um, may not be there in the very near future because it’s really expensive and hard to run a child care center without that extra support.

So we could see a situation where this might be the high point in women’s labor force participation. Um, and, you know, as we tie this in with poverty, um, there are certain subsidies that make childcare more possible for, for women who are, you know, on the lower end of the income ladder. And again, without those supports and structures, um, they don’t necessarily, you know, they might qualify, for example, for subsidies, but they might not always have slots in various, um, childcare centers.

So we’re about to experience a potential cliff in terms of what women’s labor force participation looks like and whether that can persist. So, um, at least for women in this 25 to 34 year old age group, um, we’re seeing all time highs. But I fear that those highs will not last without adequate supports.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: That’s really important to keep in mind. You know, when we think about, um. This economic picture we’re in right now.

To Cara, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what helped drive down poverty during the pandemic, and what policies do you think could further bolster the winds. We were seeing for some women, in terms of the gender wage gap and employment to even more women, especially across these racial divides.

Cara Brumfield, The Center for Law and Social Policy: Yeah, absolutely. So, um. Something that made a huge impact on poverty during the pandemic, of course, is the American Rescue Plan. It played a huge role. It represented a huge investment in the well-being of our nation. And it really demonstrated that, uh, these kinds of investments are both possible and really impactful. And it made it even more clear and even more obvious how poverty really is a policy choice that we’re making.

We expanded access to Medicaid. Right now, we’re seeing the devastating of, uh, sort of impacts of unwinding those Medicaid provisions that were established during the pandemic, um, over 6 million, I don’t know the current number. I know it’s over 6 million people have already lost access to Medicaid. Um, we saw, uh, lower health care premiums, which is hugely important. We saw an eviction moratorium. Um, we saw relief payments that made a really big difference for a lot of people. We saw student loan debt relief, um, all of these things that are particularly impactful for people of color, people experiencing poverty, for women and for Millennials.

Uh, the American Rescue Plan Act also enhanced a child tax credit [CTC], which really, it helped slash poverty nearly in half. Um, a particular impact, obviously, on, um, families with young children, but also was really huge for people of color. Um, corporate lobbies helped kill the expanded CTC. Uh, at the same time, they were raking in record profits and often paying little to nothing in federal income taxes. Um. So I think that what we see is that we know what the policies are that help address poverty. It’s getting cash in hand to people who need it through things like tax credits, for example. It’s also bolstering our public benefits programs that help people access their basic needs, like food, health care and housing. Um, and we really need to be making those investments that have been proven to make a huge, significant difference.

Um, when it comes to sort of the, um, the wage, uh, gap, I think it’s important to remember that even as women are increasingly educated and increasingly entering the workforce, um, that when you think about it, um, sort of when you start to disaggregate it by race, you see that women of color are still disproportionately in those jobs that are the lowest paid, the jobs that have the most sort of hectic and unpredictable work schedules, uh, which makes it really challenging to have your health care or your child care needs met. Um, uh, so that has an impact on your ability to stay employed and to advance in your career. Um, and we know that given all of the student loan debt and how oppressive that has been, particularly for, for people of color, that those educational gains and those employment gains just aren’t paying off for folks the same way, um, that they might have expected them to.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Cara. Uh, Sara, I have a question for you as well. I was hoping you could talk to us a little bit about what we’re seeing and what you’ve seen from your data about Gen Z and their political power right now. You know, you said Gen Z is really coming of age, taking a seat at the political table. What will this mean in terms of not just representation, but change, not just for that generation or kind of youngest voters, but for the millennial women ahead of them to.

Sara Srygley, PRB: That’s a great question. We know that millions of new Gen Z members will be eligible to vote before the 2024 election, so in pure numbers, the potential voting bloc for Gen Z and Millennials combined is actually poised to outnumber baby boom voters. What we don’t know is if they’ll vote. So that’s the potential voting bloc. But that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll vote. We also don’t know how they’ll vote. They certainly have the numbers to see what’s important to them represented and in policy and in election outcomes at all levels.

But what we really need to be focusing on is empowering that generation, empowering Gen Z, and empowering Millennial members of our society to feel like they can make a difference and to understand how to do that, how to become engaged in their communities, how to become politically and civically engaged so that they can use those numbers that they have and represent their interests on those larger stages.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Fantastic. And I’d like to do one more question to the panel as a whole before I ask for questions from our audience today, but I would love to just hear from you each right now. You know, one thing that really comes through in this data is the fact that there seems to be this bigger story about millennial women, and they are dying for a whole slew of different reasons. So I was wondering from where you all sit, how you’re thinking about what we can do to change this. What policy solutions are most needed right now to address how fatal it just is to be a young woman in America today? So if someone wants to jump in or I’ll pick on someone to start. Martha, you want to hop in?

Martha Sanchez, Young Invincibles: Yeah, I think, I mean, first we have to, um, work and fight for policies that protect women’s ability to make decisions over their own health care and their own bodies. Um, and I think, too, um, given what we’re seeing in terms of the increase in suicide rates, especially for women of color, we do need to reform, um, mental health.

Um, and the way that it is delivered in this country, mental health should not be treated as a specialty service 100% of the time. It should be a preventive care service. It should be as easy and as important as scheduling your annual physical to obtain mental health services from your provider. Um, and so that and that includes making at least the first three visits free. Um, under all private insurance plans. Um, and ensuring that we are changing the narrative of what it means to be healthy. Um, the same way that we look at social determinants of health, we have to look at the social determinants and economic determinants of mental health. So I think that’s where we have to focus on.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Doctor Harris or Cara, either. Oh, you both jumped in. Okay, here, I’ll pick. Dr. Harris, okay.

Dr. Jamelia Harris, Justice and Joy National Collaborative: Yes, we just unmute at the same time! So, yes, I spoke a little bit about just concerns around the data that is showing that Black women particularly are experiencing higher rates of suicide and something that, uh, our recent research we have been engaging has been looking at the impact of police violence on girls and gender expansive young, uh, folks of color. We found that particularly, uh, police violence has, uh, detrimental impact on the mental health of Black girls and gender expansive young people. And we are now, uh, recently releasing a report that’s looking at the impact of vicarious trauma.

So thinking about experiences of engaging with police violence through social media, um, and especially thinking about this unprecedented moment, uh, of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which many young people were socially isolated from their peers and their loved ones. And in order to stay connected to them, uh, they were engaging on social media and an all-time high that we are seeing that many young people have vocalize at one, uh, they are severely experiencing mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that two, police violence is a serious, uh, social health, uh, indicator of some of the challenges that they are experiencing with regard to mental health. And so I would say that, uh, one, I think that we really need to be talking about police violence as a global health, uh, related issue. And two, I think that we really need to be more intentional in thinking about the ways that we are engaging young folks in seeking solutions.

We recently, uh, had some conversations with young people and thinking about what their visions were for futures free from police violence, and they had incredible ideas and insights about ways that we can go about addressing police brutality. And to, to quote earlier, it was mentioned that, uh, young folks are now reaching the age in which they have political power and deserve a seat at the table. And I would say that we know that young folks have always, uh, really pushed for social, political justice in their communities, that they have always, even if they weren’t extended seats at the table.

To paraphrase the words of Shirley Chisholm, they brought their folding chairs, and they really can be the beacon of incredible change in their communities if we allow them, uh, to be a part of, of these spaces and allow them to be a part of seeking solutions to some of the challenges that we’re facing.

Cara Brumfield, The Center for Law and Social Policy: Yeah, I’ll, I’ll underline everything that was already shared. And I’ll just talk a little bit about poverty. Um, we need to address poverty. It is, um, extremely painful, stressful, traumatic. And I think we forget that it’s deadly. Poverty kills us. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s within our power and, uh, to, to address poverty with policy. And we need to do things that work that are demonstrated to have worked like the child tax credit.

We also need to invest, um, in our benefits system that helps meet basic needs. And we need to go beyond meeting just basic needs and try to build a system of benefits that is designed for people to thrive and experience abundance. Um, we also need to address, uh, corporate power, the corporate power that is undermining our shared prosperity in this country and especially oppressive for people of color and people experiencing poverty. And we need to do things that, uh, protect workers like, um, improve wages and provide other protections and supports like access to paid leave, for example, so that we can care for each other.

Diana Elliott, PRB: I’ll chime in and well, I’ll just say thank you to our panelists for those fantastic recommendations. Um, and at least from our perspective at PRB. I mean, we see a lot of power and data. I think these data really show how important it is to disaggregate data for different groups. Um, and that there is real power in being able to tell these stories, because on some of these measures, these deadly measures, we’re seeing different directions. Um, so you might see that white women, for example, have done better on some of these measures over time. While it’s not the case for women of color. So, um, power and data and showing as much disaggregated data as we possibly can.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much for that, Diana. I’m gonna, um. Very well. Some questions we’ve got from our audience right now. And I just want to remind everyone that anyone who’s here and in the audience, you are welcome to ask the question. And you can do so by just typing it into the Q&A box. And I will read it out loud, just like you’re about to see. And a panelist will answer. And when you’re asking a question, please be sure to also identify yourself and your organizational affiliation.

So I just want to start with, um, some of these that we have here. Um, we have a first question that says that, you know, we’ve got data showing that going to college, um, that, you know, women that go to college do make more annually than those that don’t. But what can we say from the report? What did you find in terms of that comparisons? And is it worth it for women to get into more debt at this point in time and more generally, what does this mean in terms of debt that Millennial women are carrying as a result of accessing this level of education compared to previous generations?

Sara Srygley, PRB: We did look in the report at other research. We did a lot of background research and looked into student loan debt and the racial and ethnic components as well as the gender component. And we did find that women hold more student loan debt than male peers, and that women of color hold more student loan debt than white women. So there, again, is a real disparity there that not only presents those barriers to higher education, but also increased stress for those who do obtain higher education.

So we’re seeing these higher rates of education, but with those higher rates of college degree attainment, we’re seeing that student loan debt coming alongside. And there are some real consequences to student loan debt beyond just the monetary consequences. There’s been research to support that. Mental and physical health is negatively impacted by student loan debt. And so whether or not the trade off is worth it, I think I’ll defer to some of Diana’s expertise on the benefits in terms of the finances of debt and degree attainment. But for sure, we see massive disparities, and we also see some real serious impacts to people’s health when they carry that student loan debt.

Diana Elliott, PRB: Yeah. And I’ll just chime in to say that one of the hardest statistics for me to see personally is that, um, non-completers who are more often first generation students, they’re more often students of color. Um, often go down the path of going to school trying to sort of gain that degree to improve their future prospects and have trouble completing for some of the reasons that Martha articulated earlier, that it, it can be a really sort of unwelcoming place.

And for various reasons, there are other family needs or other needs that arise along the way. They tend to be the people with sort of low amounts of debt that are the ones that go into delinquency the most. Um, and some previous research and work that I did looked at how, um, those who would benefit the most from student debt relief are actually black women. Um, Black women would stand to, to gain the most by student debt relief. So when we think about these policies being proposed by the administration in federal, um, sort of discussions, um, it’s really important to think about, um, how this could change a trajectory and create equity, for example.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, everyone on that one. Um, you know, uh, Martha and maybe Doctor Harris, too. We have another question from Emma Bittner, who asks, can you speak more about the importance of cultural competency and the impact of the lack of providers of color when we’re talking about mental health care? Of course, anyone can jump in.

Martha Sanchez, Young Invincibles: Yeah. Um, I think in two different spaces. So we were just talking about how college campuses can not be a welcoming place for first generation students or students of color. Um, that’s because, you know, these institutions expect, um, that we come with the $5,000 to afford the meal plan or the dorm. Um, in the books and everything, on top of being an excellent student. Um, I know that one time I asked a professor for an extension and she said, well, in the real world, you don’t get extensions. But the reason why I need it is because I was working 30 hours a week as being a full-time student. So the stressors that students face on these campuses, um, where they don’t when they don’t have parents that are providing them with all of the financial and emotional support, are can be quite defining of their experience and of their ability to succeed. And it’s time that colleges take a realistic look at their needs in terms of the financial supports that need to be in place, that our government and state governments actually make investments in our ability to succeed in higher education.

Um, but in in these resources, something that will make a tremendous difference. Um, are the mental health resources, um, because for many first gen students, depending on, on their cultures, there’s a lot of stigma around mental health. And college campuses are actually the first safe place, oftentimes, where they can get free resources, free counseling, and the ability to connect with a counselor that understands their cultural experience or is at least open and willing to understand is really key and important, and then feeling supported. Um, so I think at the college level, increasing mental health resources is key. But then outside of that, um, we know that there’s a shortage of culturally competent providers. And that has to do with, again, the fact that that career path is not affordable.

We should be creating scholarships and financial assistance for students to go into the mental health fields, especially students of color, not just at the graduate level, because we know the data tells us, right, that students of color are not attaining master’s degrees at the same level as their white peers.

We need to look at the undergraduate level two and make sure that these students feel like that is a field open to them. Um, and that getting a psychology, psychology degree won’t just mean that they end up in debt and can never actually do anything with that. So we need to really take a look at our higher education systems. Are majors the financial requirements for them and be serious about what kind of workforce do we want to have in this country. Because even from an economic perspective, there is a need, there is a demand, and we’re not doing anything to meet that. And it’s, it’s unfortunate that we’re not providing these resources for the people who will be your doctors and teachers and politicians and scientists of tomorrow.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: If anyone else, uh, wants to help and let me know. But otherwise I’ll move on to our next question, which is from Roger. Mark D’Souza from Pack Two asks, women from marginalized communities faced intersecting forms of discrimination. How could we recognize and address intersectionality in data, policies and programs and better amplify diverse voices and foster inclusivity? Who wants to hop in before I pick on someone?

Dr. Jamelia Harris, Justice and Joy National Collaborative: I can hop in and just start us out. I think that the first point is the acknowledgment, uh, that an intersectional lens is necessary. Um, I think that, as I mentioned, the research that, that the Losing More Ground report is depicting is really a rarity. And, and I want to be clear, as someone who’s coming from the background of education, that oftentimes, uh, the data that we get is just not disaggregated. And that really, uh, prevents us from having a full picture of what is happening for so long.

Uh, there was this, this, uh, broad and dominant narrative that girls were doing fine in schools because we didn’t have the data that was showing that black, Latinx, Indigenous young folks, uh, were experiencing particular challenges. And so now that we have additional insights into some of the challenges that are facing Black girls within our public education system, such as their push out into the criminal justice system, we know that, uh, Black girls are one of the highest, uh, represented among girls who are suspended, expelled, arrested. And this has consequences on their, uh, social, political, economical outcomes later on in life. Now that we have that understanding, we’re able to implement the policies to, uh, address this inequity. We’re able to implement the programing initiatives that are specifically targeting their identities at the intersection of race and gender.

And so I think that it’s one a first step is, is really the acknowledgment, uh, that we need to be prioritizing an intersectional lens. And I believe that a second step of this is that, uh, we really need to be ensuring that the folks who we are, uh, trying to understand their experiences within these various social inequities are at the forefront of seeking solutions. Uh, Justice and Joy National Collaborative are a big part of our work, is really rooted in our belief that nothing about us should be without us.

And so we are constantly, uh, engaging young people who are systems impacted as we are taking on our research initiatives, as we’re taking on our policy advocacy, if we’re taking on our programing initiatives, and we really do this with the intention of prioritizing lived experience as expertise, which is something that I fundamentally believe, uh, needs to be happening across the board.

And so one of the questions that I always ask myself whenever I’m doing this work is, who’s in the room, who’s not in the room, whose voices need to be in this space, whose voices aren’t, uh, reflected in this space. And once we start to be more intentional and paying attention to who those folks are that are consistently not given a seat at the table. To go back to that, uh, analogy, then we can really move towards ensuring that we have the kinds of representation that we need to push the needle forward for all, uh, young women of color.

Sara Srygley, PRB: I’ll add to that. As Doctor Harris said, the availability of data to disaggregate in this way is a real challenge. So speaking from a data perspective, how we can improve this and continue to take that intersectional lens is we need responsible collection and analysis of data on marginalized groups. And there’s a lot of discussion right now. For example, one of the things that we dive into as much as possible in the report, but we’re really limited in, is looking at gender identity and sexual orientation and the impacts of those identities on health and safety and outcomes for young women today.

And there’s not a lot of data out there, and there’s not necessarily comparable data across generations. And so we were really limited. There’s discussion now around the inclusion of questions of gender identity and sexual orientation in some government data sets and things like that. Thinking about the responsible collection of data and the responsible handling of that data for marginalized groups is going to be a really important piece moving forward to how we are able to identify communities that are most at risk and address those risks.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Fantastic. Thank you. And we have another question from Mark Mather who says this report is really about young women’s well-being. But he was wondering if anyone could speak to the potential impact of these patterns on children, since many of these women are also mothers.

Sara Srygley, PRB: So it’s absolutely true that many of these women are mothers, and we know that adverse childhood experiences have a long term impact for children. So these factors such as poverty, maternal stress, maternal mental health, uh, they will have those trickle down effects on the children of women today who are facing these problems and may increase adverse childhood experiences which affect the health and well-being of future generations. So when we talk about this data, it’s not just about today’s Millennial young women. It’s really about where we are today and where we’re going in the future. And so that’s why it’s so critical, because it’s not just about this moment in time. It’s about generations to come as well.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: You to go kind of a little bit more about what we were just talking about with data. I was hoping we could all stack, but we got a question from Jeff Jordan at PRB, who wanted to talk about disaggregated data and threats to the collection of this kind of data, what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling in this field, and then kind of conversely, what potentially new or promising sources in the future might provide even more evidence for policymakers and program planners. So, Sara, I know you just spoke a little bit about that, but we’d love to hear a little more from Diana, Sara, anyone else who wants to hop in?

Diana Elliott, PRB: Yeah, I can hop in. Um, you know, I think one of the biggest threats that we have is changes in administration and changes in policies on data or shall we say, preferences on what data are collected and what are not collected. Um, now, um, there are efforts afoot. OMB is, is in the process of collecting public commentary on, for example, the sexual orientation and gender identity question. There is the process of vetting new race and ethnicity questions, which could improve how some of these data are disaggregated. Um, but there is a real risk to, um, changes in terms of who can control or who can stop collection of data. We certainly saw that happen in 2016, certainly with race and ethnicity data and changes to federal surveys.

So there is a risk. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop trying, though, because it’s incredibly important for understanding, as Sara was saying, which groups are affected most and which groups could most be helped by targeted and, um, specific policies in different areas. So, um, you know, I think the, the push for better data, data collection goes on. Um, and I don’t know if Cara has anything to add to this, since I know that she thinks about this a lot as well.

Cara Brumfield, The Center for Law and Social Policy: Yeah. Thanks, Diana. Um, I am a bona fide census nerd, which Diana knows well. Um, one of the challenges that I think about a lot is, um, how poorly we do at counting people of color in the decennial census, which is really the foundation of all of our data. Um, in the, in our nation, it sort of, it’s the universe from which we create samples for all other data analyzes. And we have never, in our history accurately counted, um, people of color, Black people. Um, we also have some challenges around disaggregation of census data. Um, I’ll just highlight that the Asian population, for example, a lot of disparities, um, are completely hidden when all of the Asian ethnicities and subgroups are sort of collapsed into this one big category. Uh, something else that I think a lot about is diversity and inclusion in, uh, among the data experts and, uh, the, the folks who make up the data infrastructure.

Um, we need, just as we need more diversity in the folks who provide us with our health care, we need more diversity in the people who collect and analyze and and discuss our data. Um, because they’re making a lot of decisions about which data to collect and how to collect those data and what those data mean, what the stories, those data are telling us. And we need people with lived experience of poverty, and we need people of color in those positions, because that’s going to help us have a more accurate understanding of what, um, what the data really means.

Sara Srygley, PRB: Absolutely. Uh, Cara, you’re so right that the decisions around what data to collect are really linked to the policy. And that goes back to that political and civic engagement. One thing that comes to mind for me, aside from that population data, is things like firearms research. We talk a bit in the report about some of the limitations that we face when looking at things like homicide rates and suicide rates, because there’s been limitations to funding at the federal level for agencies like the CDC to do quality research on the public health impacts of gun violence.

And so those changes in administration, those changes in policy have really limited our ability to compare gun violence and the impacts across generations in this report and continue to limit our understanding of those issues even today. So it extends really to sort of every area of data collection that is really critical to understanding what’s going on in our country and why we’re seeing these worse outcomes.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, all of you. I know we are coming up against it. So I have one last question. Diana. I would just love for you to kind of close out our panel with a look ahead and what you see on the horizon for not only young millennial women right now, but for the generations of women coming after them. Despite all the losses in progress, this data set really points to what wins do you see ahead when it comes to women and equity?

Diana Elliott, PRB: Yeah. Thank you. Jennifer. Um, first of all, I just want to say that I am so heartened by, um, just the amazing panelists on this group. I mean, if this is the future of research and policy, we’re in really, really good hands here. Um, and I’ll say it was really a point of pride for us that we had multiple generations represented as authors on this report. We had a Gen Z author who created our Gen Z pop out box and did research to sort of figure out what issues were most important to her and her peers. Um, we have a Millennial lead author. Um, we have Gen X represented, um, trying to, you know, sort of, uh, represent our, our small and mighty, um, generation. So it was really important that we had this, this cross, um, perspective across generations. Um, and I think the future, um, is really bright, right? We, we know that we have really civically engaged younger generations, Millennial and Gen Z women are civically engaged.

Again, we have, we had this discussion earlier about whether they feel that they have a seat at the table or where they’re whether they’re, um, brought into even these discussions. I think that’s something that we all need to be mindful of moving forward, because, um, you need diversity of perspectives. You need diversity across generations to make the best policy. I’d say the other area where I’d like to see some positive traction is more evidence used for policymaking. So inclusion of lots of voices and evidence based policymaking. I think if we have those two put together, we have a really bright future in this country.

Jennifer Gerson, The 19th News, moderator: Thank you so much, Diana, and thank you to all of our really engaging, informed panelists today. Thank you all for attending and joining us today to and to learn more about losing more ground, please visit prb.org or click on the link in the chat. We’ll drop in right now to follow PRB on X @PRBdata or on LinkedIn. And thank you so much again, everyone for joining us today.