In 1975, nearly one-half of American families had a sole wage-earner who was a husband. In 2008, those traditional families numbered only one in 5.

Today, one-half of American workers are women, and one in five is a single working parent. 4 in 10 mothers is the primary bread-winner in her family.

The Shriver Report, a study penned by Maria Shriver and The Center for American Progress, paints the picture of women in contemporary American society — New Breadwinners, Immigrants, Spiritual, Sharing the Load. At the end, the report finds that employers’ and government agencies’ policies don’t match up with what women and families really need.

The study’s poll of over 3,000 Americans found that men and women agree that their lives have significantly changed since 1975 — but that business and government haven’t caught up with these realities.

What to do? The report’s executive summary says that, “We as a people must transform the way our government, our businesses, our faith-based institutions, and our media deal with the realities of a women’s nation so that all of us can better cope with the transformation of how we work and live.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points: “Sick and Tired” is the report’s chapter on women and health. It’s a rich, albeit sad, compendium based on 83 references. The top-line is this: as women have taken on a greater share of breadwinning responsibilities, their health security has eroded. But this is ironic, given the fact that women are bigger consumers of health care than men.

Why is this? It’s a perfect storm of converging drivers, including:

  • Employer-sponsored health insurance is modeled on old notions of “the family” – too many women are left out
  • Lack of flexibility in workers’ job descriptions, which don’t recognize that women are also the primary care providers for their kids and parents
  • 25% of women who receive health insurance via their husbands’ jobs are at risk of losing coverage in this economy
  • Insurance companies charge women higher premiums than men of the same age and health status, known as “gender rating”
  • Women typically have higher out-of-pocket costs than men do, due to copays and more frequent visits (think: OB-GYN, use of chronic meds)
  • Women skip care more than men do, and they don’t fill Rxs as often
  • Women are paid less than men, so medical expenses eat up more disposable income.

The solution is to make health care more affordable and comprehensive regardless of gender and employment status. Until that happens, governments and employer-sponsored health plans will muddle along as women’s access to health care continues to erode.