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Press Release

The Fierce Urgency of Now: New Research on the Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota Demands Action to Create Equity

Data findings in economics, safety, health, and leadership

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, released the leading comprehensive research today on the status of women and girls in the state in economics, safety, health, and leadership. The research is available here.

For 35 years, the Foundation has conducted research on women and girls to raise awareness and energize the momentum to shift attitudes, institutions, systems, and policies that create pathways to economic opportunity, safety, wellness, and equal leadership for all Minnesota women and girls. The research also informs the Foundation’s annual grantmaking and policy agenda and identifies areas where further research is needed.

“At the Women’s Foundation, we know that the strongest grantmaking and policies to improve the lives of all Minnesotans are data-driven,” said Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. “This report disaggregates data by gender, race, place, and additional identities at the margins; this is essential to understand how inequities impact communities differently, and why it is urgent to support community-specific solutions to achieve equity.”

According to Roper-Batker, the overall research shows progress in some areas, but inequities still exist for all women and girls in Minnesota and continue to be even greater for women and girls of color, American Indian women and girls, rural women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and older women.

“Systemic gender inequities continue to trap too many women in poverty, compromise their safety, hinder access to healthcare, and limit leadership opportunities across all sectors,” said Roper-Batker. “When women thrive, so do their families and communities. Minnesota can and must do better.”

“In the words of Dr. King,” continued Roper-Batker, ‘We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.’

“Our Status research is a clarion call to increase investments in community solutions to create a state where all women can thrive and prosper,” said Roper-Batker.


The data reveal that Minnesota women are participating in the paid workforce at greater rates than the national average, especially those with young children. Yet the wage gap, occupational clustering, and lack of caregiving support result in economic insecurity. These barriers for women of color and American Indian women contribute to Minnesota’s dismal record on racial inequities, including a growing and substantial wealth gap between white Minnesotans and everyone else.

“The wage gap continues to prevent Minnesota women and their families from receiving their fair share,” said Roper-Batker. “One alarming trend is that while slow progress is being made for white women, the gap for African American women and Latinas has grown since our last report in 2014.”

According to the research, all categories of women working full-time earn less than comparable white men. White, Asian American, African American, American Indian, and Latina women earn $0.82, $0.75, $0.60, $0.63 and $0.55 on the dollar, respectively, compared to white men. When wage data is disaggregated for Asian American women, we see that Hmong and Laotian women have substantially higher gaps than Asian women on average: earning just $0.57 and $0.56 respectively. Similar disaggregation for African American women reveals the largest disparities for Somali and Liberian women ($0.51). Gaps remain even when education, hours worked, and occupations are considered.

“Women continue to comprise the majority of workers in the state earning at or below the minimum wage and working in low-wage fields, despite impressive educational gains,” said Roper-Batker.

Training and education do not result in the same economic payoff for the state’s women, especially women of color and American Indian women, due to clustering in female dominated occupations that are undervalued based on the skills, education, and risk involved.

“American Indian women had the worst intergenerational mobility outcomes. They were least likely to end up with high income after growing up in a low-income family, and most likely to start in a high-income family and end up with the lowest levels of individual income, according to a recent, high-profile study analyzing how racial income gaps change across generations for 20 million US children and their parents,” said Roper-Batker. “Our analysis of the limited Minnesota data made available for selected cities and racial/ethnic groups (White, African American, and Latino) showed that, in Minneapolis, African American men had the worst intergenerational mobility, though outcomes for all groups fell significantly below those of white men. The worst mobility outcomes in the seven Greater Minnesota cities included were for African American women and Latinas.”

“Unaffordable housing, student debt, and lack of caregiving supports like childcare or paid family leave hit women and the families they increasingly support financially the hardest,” said Roper-Batker. “A majority of Minnesota’s Latina, African American, and American Indian women report that they are worried or stressed about having enough money to pay the rent or mortgage.”

Since it takes Minnesota women, on average, a master’s degree to earn around $1,000 more per year than men with an associate degree, they are shouldering disproportionate student loan debt. Lower earnings and greater need for education mean Minnesota women are more likely to have to take out loans, take out higher levels of debt, and spend more time paying them back.

Minnesota’s full-time working mothers spend almost two hours more per day on care and housework than full-time working fathers. Nearly a quarter of full-time working mothers in Minnesota report eldercare during the past three months. And while they have fewer resources on average to manage them, Minnesota’s women of color and American Indian women have higher unpaid caregiving demands. At the same time, the state’s commitment to childcare support is shrinking and paid time off to care for elders is exceptionally rare.


Gender-based violence is a reality for women and girls throughout the world and in Minnesota.

“Our girls are growing up in a culture that both sexualizes them and normalizes gender-based violence,” said Roper-Batker. “The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 684,000 Minnesota women are survivors of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking — a number, for example, that could fill the 39,000-seat Target Field 17 times.”

As the #MeToo movement has revealed, most women in Minnesota have experienced sexual harassment (63-81%, depending on the survey) and there are financial and emotional costs that come with it. Many young women regard harassment and violence as a normal part of everyday life, with one in four Minnesota 9th grade girls reporting unwanted sexual comments, jokes, and gestures. One-third to one-half of overweight girls report harassment or bullying based on their appearance, 35% of Somali girls report the same based on ethnicity and national origin, and 40-50% of LGBTQ+ students report harassment or bullying based on appearance or sexual orientation.

One in three women on Minnesota college campuses report a history of sexual assault, and 41% of those dealing with an assault say it has affected their academic performance. This represents an increase from the past decade, where the proportion was around 1 in 4.

As the state of Minnesota grapples with the hundreds of incidents of serious abuse — including beatings, sexual assaults, and thefts — that were going uninvestigated each year by the agency charged with protecting the elderly in senior homes, it is important to note that women make up the majority of those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Many Minnesota girls of color, American Indian young women, and LGBTQ+ youth receive disproportionate levels of discipline, which has a harmful effect on academic outcomes and overall well-being. American Indian girls receive the most punitive treatment, which carries over into adulthood. Minneapolis Police Department data reveals that American Indian women are stopped, searched, and arrested more than any other group, including African American men.


“Across multiple indicators of health and wellness, many Minnesota women and girls are at risk,” said Roper-Batker. When compared to other states, Minnesota’s health outcomes for women and girls look positive. But a closer examination of the data reveals persistent health disparities for Minnesota women of color, American Indian women, and women in Greater Minnesota.

Food insecurity is affecting the health of Minnesota women of color, with a majority of Latina, African American, and American Indian women in Minnesota reporting they are worried or stressed about having enough money to buy nutritious meals; 17% of African American women and 24% of American Indian women say that they are always or usually worried. Girls of color in Minnesota are two to three times more likely (8-11% versus 4%) than white girls to report that they skipped meals because their family didn’t have enough money to buy food.

“Not all new mothers in Minnesota get the care they need,” said Roper-Batker. Only 1 in 40 of Minnesota’s white mothers (2.5%) received inadequate prenatal care or no prenatal care during 2010-2014. In all other racial/ethnic groups, the percentage receiving inadequate or no care was two to eight times higher. A decline in rural maternity care access, as hospitals and obstetric units have closed over the past decade, is resulting in rising rates of maternal morbidity and mortality.

“Almost one-quarter of Minnesota’s new mothers in the workforce return to their jobs within two weeks of giving birth,” said Roper-Batker. “Equally important is the fact that 70% of new fathers take leaves of two weeks or less when a new baby arrives. Research tells us that when fathers take paternity leave they stay more involved in caregiving and women earn more over the long run.”

Teen birth rates continue to decline in Minnesota, especially for American Indian and Asian girls. Birth rates among African American and Latina teens in Minnesota remain below or at the national average. The overall decline in the adolescent birth rate over the past two decades has been attributed to delayed initiation of sexual activity and improvements in teens’ contraceptive use.

“Access to healthcare remains a concern for too many Minnesota women,” said Roper-Batker. For Minnesota’s rural women, fewer and declining physicians per population are decreasing access. For example, between 2003 and 2007 there was a 48% decline in obstetrical care in rural Minnesota. For many Minnesota women of color, American Indian women, women with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ women, (especially those between 18 and 24), the cost of doctor visits remains a barrier to obtaining health care. Younger women (18-24) are even more likely to face this barrier, with 16.4% of LGBTQ+ people, 23% of those with a disability, 22% of African American, and 24% of Latinas reporting that costs kept them from visiting the doctor.

“Systemic racism has mental health consequences,” said Roper-Batker. “One in five Minnesota African American women report that they have felt emotionally upset (angry, sad, or frustrated) in the past 30 days as a result of how they were treated based on their race.”

Minnesota student data is consistent with a recent 15-country study that found rigid gender stereotypes are tied to increased depression, violence, and suicide. On average, women and girls are more likely to have internalizing problems, like depression, that are more self-destructive, while men and boys have externalizing problems, like antisocial behavior, that are more destructive to others. Minnesota’s 9th grade boys are twice as likely as girls to have hit or beat someone up, while girls are twice as likely to report significant, daily problems with feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.

“As Minnesota’s population ages, older women are facing challenges, whether they live alone or are in assisted living, “said Roper-Batker. “Recent incidents of elder abuse in Minnesota are concerning since such mistreatment can lead to significant declines in health, including greater anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and increased susceptibility to disease.”

Those that live alone (72% of Minnesota seniors that live alone are women) are also at greater risk for loneliness and related mental health problems (34% compared to 9% for those who do not live alone) and are less likely (25% compared to 5%) to have someone to take care of them if they become sick or disabled.

“These problems are more pronounced in rural areas where distances are greater and isolation more common, and among elder women who are also twice as likely to live in poverty as their male counterparts, with significantly lower retirement and social-security income available to pay for care – the cost of which is increasing faster in Minnesota than the national average,” said Roper-Batker.


“At all levels of leadership — from school boards to Fortune 500 companies — women remain underrepresented across the nation. In Minnesota, progress for women leaders has slowed, stalled, and in some professions, gone backwards,” said Roper-Batker.

Women in elected office at the Minnesota Legislature are stuck at one-third, slightly below historic highs of 70 women in elected office in 2006-2008. Two fewer women (66 total) serve now than at the time of our last report (2014).

“While far from parity, it is hopeful to see women of color and American Indian women making gains at the state and local level,” said Roper-Batker.

The current Minnesota House of Representatives class is the most diverse ever. Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar made national news as the first Somali woman to be elected. Three LGBTQ+ women and three African American women serve in the House of Representatives, and two Latinas serve in the Senate. Four women formed the first-ever Minnesota House American Indian Caucus. Meanwhile in Minneapolis, the first African-American transgender woman was elected to the City Council.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court also presents a picture of progress, with a female majority consisting of one African American, one American Indian, one lesbian, and one white woman. The state district court bench in Hennepin County, the largest in the state, is more than half women—a third of those are women of color, and at least two are from the LGBTQ+ community. Progress is slower in rural areas of the state where women in general are less well represented, and women of color and American Indian women in office or on the bench can be counted on one hand.

“It is disappointing that in the corporate sector we see less progress at the very top,” said Roper-Batker.

Minnesota CEOs remain primarily male. Only 7 of the top 85 Minnesota companies are headed by a woman (8%), and overall C-suite progress has stalled at around 20% (a half percentage point increase between 2015 and 2017). Nationally, only 3% of C-Suite jobs are held by women of color, and in Minnesota only 3.4% of corporate board seats are held by women of color.

About the Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota project

Since 1990, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has conducted research to inform its grantmaking and policy work. Launched in 2009, Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota is an ongoing collaborative research project of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy. Data specific to Minnesota women and girls is gathered and analyzed in economics, safety, health, and leadership. The project represents a unique approach to research by using a gender-race-geography-equity lens.

“Our grant from the Women’s Foundation to conduct research through this project, supports the Center’s mission to apply a gender lens to illuminate gender-based disparities and advance effective public policies,” said Debra Fitzpatrick, co-director, University of MN Humphrey School’s Center on Women, Gender & Public Policy.

The data reviewed and included here comes from published reports produced by government agencies and nonprofits, and original gender-based analysis of publicly available datasets (such as the American Community Survey and the Minnesota Student Survey).

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