While federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender disparities persist in education, employment and earnings, retirement, health, violence, and other areas covered by federal programs. Women are more likely to be concentrated in low-wage jobs, be responsible for caregiving, and experience sexual harassment and assault. Additionally, maternal mortality rates are increasing in the United States (a 3% increase from 2000-2015) but have decreased globally. Other issues, such as school discipline and bullying, may affect men and gender minorities disproportionately.
Federal agencies could more effectively design, implement, and evaluate programs and policies by understanding the role gender plays.
- Women continue to be underrepresented in management roles in the U.S. workforce, and female managers continue to earn less than male managers. In 2021, women working full-time earned an estimated 76 cents for every dollar that men earned across all industries, though the pay gap was greater for managers than for non-managers.
- Older women have a longer life expectancy, on average, than older men. And the challenges women face during their working years can affect their lifetime earnings and retirement income. For instance, women are overrepresented in low wage professions, paid less money than their male counterparts during their careers, and more likely to leave the workforce to care for family members. Taken together, these trends may significantly affect women's financial security in retirement.
- Women are still largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions. And female students in engineering and medical majors experience sexual harassment significantly more than female students in non-STEM fields. Additionally, federal agencies that fund STEM research at universities are required to conduct Title IX compliance reviews—a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs receiving any federal financial assistance. However, agencies could improve how they monitor compliance with Title IX.
- The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of teachers—a female-dominated profession (75% women)—especially in western states and high-poverty communities. The Department of Education introduced its vision in the summer of 2022 for "Supporting and Elevating the Teaching Profession." But the department's strategy doesn't have important elements—such as timeframes or performance measures—that would help ensure its efforts are working.
- Hundreds of women die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth in the U.S. every year, and women of color are disproportionately affected. For example, Black women are more than 3 times as likely to die from childbirth as White women, and American Indian and Alaska Native women are more than twice as likely to die from childbirth. During the pandemic, maternal deaths increased and the maternal death rate for Black women was disproportionally higher compared to White and Hispanic women. The pandemic worsened factors contributing to maternal health disparities, like access to care.
Pregnancy-Related Deaths per 100,000 Live Births by Ethnic/Racial Group, 2007-2016
- Sexual harassment in the workplace can cause harmful psychological, physical, occupational, and economic effects for harassed employees. A federal survey estimates that more than 1 in 5 employees (22%) at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) experienced workplace sexual harassment in 2014-2016. VA has policies to prevent and address harassment, but some are inconsistent. For example, the person who oversees personnel functions (e.g., hiring, promotions) is the same person who oversees the complaint process, which can create a conflict of interest.
- Female officers in the military had higher annual attrition rates than men, with reasons like family planning, sexual assault, and dependent care influencing separations. The Department of Defense could improve its guidance to monitor recruitment and retention efforts of female active-duty servicemembers. Additionally, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence involving sexual assault in the military undermine core values, unit cohesion, combat readiness, and public goodwill.
- Federal data on sexual violence is critical to preventing, addressing, and understanding the consequences of these types of crimes. However, these data are confusing and fragmented, which may obscure the scope of the problem and hinder the understanding of sexual violence. The Office of Management and Budget should establish a federal interagency forum on sexual violence data to help lessen confusion on sexual violence data. Additionally, federal data on domestic violence—a significant public health issue—is lacking, especially as it relates to brain injuries resulting from such violence.
- Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women is a crisis, and cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women persist nationwide. The Justice Department should develop a plan for analyzing data that could help identify relevant trends in cases of missing or murdered AI/AN women.
- Human trafficking victims are often held in slave-like conditions and forced to work in areas like the commercial sex trade, factories, and agriculture. Several federal agencies have programs to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect survivors. However, staffing gaps, unclear roles, and weaknesses in monitoring have impeded some efforts. Additionally, the internet has made it easier for sex traffickers to exploit victims and connect with buyers.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development is required to spend at least $265 million a year supporting very small businesses, and must target some of this money to benefit the very poor and women. However, the agency hasn’t collected the data to monitor these activities and is unable to determine how much money reaches these groups.