HHS Issues First Comprehensive Survey of Working Women's Health

For Immediate Release

Contact: Sandra Smith, NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800, Fred Blosser, NIOSH (202) 260-8519

Series 3, No. 31. Women: Work and Health. 104 pp. (PHS) 98-1415. GPO stock number and price forthcoming pdf icon[PDF – 1 MB]

The Department of Health and Human Services today announced the release of the first comprehensive report on the health and well-being of America’s working women. “Women: Work and Health” profiles key statistics for the more than 60 million women who are part of the American labor force, using data from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Commerce.

“For the first time from any source, this report compiles the wide-ranging national data that are the most critical for assessing the complex relationship between employment and women’s health in our society,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “At a time when more women are in the U.S. labor force than ever before, these statistics provide an important baseline for learning more about the needs of working women and opportunities to improve their health.”

Since 1950 the labor force participation rate has increased at least 170 percent, so that today more than one-half of adult women work. During that period, women as a proportion of the labor force doubled from 1 in 4 to nearly one-half of today’s workers. This report describes the sociodemographics, household characteristics, and health of women according to workforce status and job conditions, with comparative data for men.

Highlights of the report

Overall, women die from work-related injuries at a substantially lower rate than men. Industries with highest fatality rates are the same for both men and women: mining, agriculture, construction, and transportation. The number of workplace homicides is higher among men than women, but proportionately they are greater among women, accounting for almost half of women’s job-related fatalities.

For both women and men, job-related injuries most frequently affected the back. Among the 9 million working women who had back pain, about one-third attributed their back pain to work-related activities or injuries. More than half of the women employed in service or blue collar occupations and almost half of the working black women attributed their back pain to work.

Regarding health education in the workplace

  • Prenatal education was provided by 9 percent of employers in 1992. However, among the largest worksites with 750 employees and over, 40 percent of these worksites offered prenatal education.
  • Weight control activities and education were provided by 24 percent in 1992.
  • With regard to cancer, 23 percent of all worksites offered cancer education. Although the proportion of women having ever had a pap test was about 90 percent, regardless of employment status, currently employed women were more likely to have had a recent pap test–within the past 3 years–(87 percent) than women not in the labor force (73 percent).
  • The employer is an important source of private health insurance; 73 percent of working women and 71 percent of working men cited the employer as the source of insurance, whereas only 46 percent of women not in the labor force and 47 percent of men not in the labor force cited the employer of a family member as the source of private health insurance. Three-quarters of the working women had the private insurance paid in full or in part by the employer or union.

The report includes chapters on: workplace characteristics; health effects attributed to work–such as work injuries, illnesses, and fatalities; health status as it affects work; knowledge of health risks and behaviors, and worksite health promotion programs, and health-related employee benefits.

The report was produced by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in HHS, and the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, with support from the CDC Office of Women’s Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS. It also includes data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

“While the report does not present information on causal factors which could explain the patterns in the data, it does provide a comprehensive, time-saving resource for additional studies to explain the patterns in such specific areas as workplace safety and health, health insurance, health promotion, and other key issues,” said NCHS Director Edward J. Sondik, Ph.D.

“This report provides essential data for government, labor, industry, and the health community as we work together to develop forward-looking research for the coming decade on the factors that put women uniquely at risk for injury and illness on the job,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.

Copies of the report are available on the NCHS home page and from NIOSH by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

NOTE: HHS press releasesexternal icon are available on the World Wide Web.


Page last reviewed: November 17, 2009