Millennial women are increasingly overburdened with worry and feel they are let down by a health care system that routinely neglects their needs and forces them to become their own advocates, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of theSkimm, included 4,500 respondents, 2,006 of whom identify as women and fall in the millennial age cohort (between the ages of 26 and 41). The findings were published in the 2023 State of Women report.
The findings build on a growing sentiment that progress is not where it should be and the prevailing systems, which were not built for women, need to be redesigned to account for the myriad of roles women play today, the report authors write.
Women were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many losing their jobs and shouldering the burden of childcare responsibilities at home. Even as the world returns to a so-called "new normal," many women, specifically millennial women, still struggle with unpaid mental labor today.
The majority of women surveyed, 71%, were consumed with worry — tasked with the mental burden of thinking through every single scenario, at home and work, and planning for every contingency, the report authors wrote. About 79% of these women said they were concerned about the social expectations around this unpaid labor.
"Something I've noticed as a major trend as a psychologist is that worrying has become so routine. ... I think it already was pre-pandemic, but the pandemic really heightened worrying," licensed psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, Ph.D., tells TODAY.com.
Worrying is often used as a sort of defense mechanism to protect oneself or feel a sense of control, she adds, and it can become almost automatic. "It's actually easier to worry or think about all the what ifs rather than be in the present, focused on what is right in front of us," says Rubenstein.
The survey found that mental health was the top wellbeing issue on women’s minds, followed by sleep and physical safety.
Another theme Rubenstein says she has noticed is millennials worrying about is making up for lost time and trying to squeeze everything out of every minute. Women especially tend feel pressure to “do it all," says Rubenstein.
Additionally, most women (82%) surveyed said they have to handle their worry alone. "Worrying is taking us away from the moment and causing us to become more disconnected ourselves and from others," says Rubenstein. The majority of millennial women said they are worried about the mental state of their female friends.
In the survey, 82% of women said that while there’s a lot of talk about how overburdened women are, they feel that no one is helping ease that burden. According to Rubenstein, many mothers whose work-life balance disappeared during the pandemic are still struggling to establish boundaries.
The survey findings also reflect a larger problem for women's wellbeing, according to the report authors: a health care that routinely neglects and endangers women. Approximately 63% of millennial women (and 70% of LGBTQIA millennial women) said they've received disappointing or inadequate medical care.
Women are also experiencing increasing medical gaslighting, or having their symptoms and concerns minimized or dismissed, TODAY.com previously reported. More than half of millennial women surveyed, 59%, reported that they had sought treatment from doctors who did not believe them or ignored their needs.
Rubenstein says she's seen an increasing number of women speak up about medical gaslighting since the pandemic, especially those who deal with chronic health issues or pain.
"It's heartbreaking ... hearing that 'it's in your head,' and it's kind of blaming (women) for what's going on versus looking at the physical components and making it a collaborative situation," says Rubenstein, adding that this can result delays in care or waiting until a problem is too severe to ignore.
In the survey, 75% of women (including 81% of LGBTQIA women) said that the medical system was too reactive to their needs rather than proactive.
"We're approaching things at the last minute versus helping prevent major issues and all that pain," says Rubenstein, adding that being more proactive starts with health providers taking people at their word and trusting their symptoms.
Many women have had to learn how to be an advocate for themselves in health care settings, she says, which is no easy task. The survey found that 77% of women surveyed agreed with the statement, “I am the only advocate for my health and well-being."
On the flip side, Rubenstein says the medical system is "bursting at the seams" due to shortages and health care worker burnout.
Meanwhile, the $1.5 trillion-dollar women's wellness industry is selling solutions and products that a majority of women say they do not need or add even more labor to their day.
"(These) can create a sense of 'I'm not doing enough' or that you're inefficient ... preying on that feeling of there's always something more I could be doing," says Rubenstein. Constantly being fed apps or products can contribute to women feeling even more overburdened and overwhelmed, she adds.
As a result, many millennial women are taking matters into their own hands and finding ways to shore up their own mental well-being. Increasingly, women are building communities online and offline and using social media platforms as forums for solidarity, the report authors wrote.
“An overwhelming majority of the women surveyed feel that progress is not where it needs to be in 2023, and we’re seeing more and more women create their own momentum to fuel their purpose,” Abbey Lunney, managing director at The Harris Poll, tells TODAY.com in a statement.
Co-CEOs and co-founders of theSkimm Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg added in a statement: "We are hearing stories of small changes women are making, that can lead to a bigger impact — like saying 'no' more, setting boundaries and focusing on 'me' time. We are also seeing them invest in the long term, looking for new jobs or positions that offer the support they need (access mental health resources, utilizing paid family leave policies, offering childcare).”
In the survey, 92% of women said they are now prioritizing their health and 81% said they are “actively seeking new lifestyles that prioritize their health and well-being,” the authors wrote.
Throughout the month of March, TODAY.com is celebrating women across generations who have made history and continue to move the conversation forward by breaking stigmas, sparking dialogue and inspiring the next generation.