Younger and College Educated Women More Likely to Say They Have Been Harassed

Author: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Published: Thursday 21st December 2017
Summary: Discrimination in America - American women most frequently report being discriminated against in the workplace.


This report is part of a series titled "Discrimination in America." The series is based on a survey conducted for National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. While many surveys have explored Americans' beliefs about discrimination, this survey asks people about their own personal experiences with discrimination.

Of note, this survey was conducted January 26 - April 9, 2017, prior to the country's widespread discussions in the fall of 2017 about sexual assault and harassment. These national conversations may have affected how people viewed or responded to their own experiences, or their willingness to disclose these experiences in a survey.

Younger women significantly more likely to report experiences of harassment, threats, and other forms of individual discrimination

Women were asked about their experiences of individual or interpersonal forms of discrimination, such as slurs, insensitive or offensive comments or negative assumptions, sexual harassment, and threats or non-sexual harassment, among others.

View topline, tables, figures, and charts

Chart 1 shows that younger women (especially ages 18-29) are significantly more likely than older women (especially ages 65 and over) to report experiences of multiple kinds of harassment or discrimination.

For example, at least four in ten women ages 18-29 report that they have personally experienced slurs (41%) or insensitive or offensive comments or negative assumptions (40%) about their gender. Women ages 65 and over are far less likely to report these experiences. Only 6% report gendered slurs and 10% report offensive comments or negative assumptions about their gender. Additionally, 60% of women ages 18-29 report that they or a female family member have been sexually harassed, while 17% of women 65 and over report this experience.

Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who co-directed the survey, says, "Our survey highlights the extraordinary level of personal experiences of harassment facing women today, as reflected in the news. Our findings also call into focus potentially different norms in reporting these experiences among different groups of women."

College-educated women more likely to report individual discrimination:

Chart 2 illustrates another such difference: women with a college degree are significantly more likely than women with a high school degree or less to report various forms of individual discrimination. For example, women with a college degree are more than four times as likely as women with a high school degree or less to report that they personally have experienced slurs (31% vs. 7%) or insensitive or offensive comments (38% vs. 8%) about their gender.

Women with a college degree are also more than twice as likely as women with a high school degree or less to report that they or a female family member have been sexually harassed (50% vs. 23%) or threatened or non-sexually harassed (39% vs. 18%) (Chart 2).

Women across racial and ethnic groups most frequently report being personally discriminated against because of their gender in the workplace

Chart 3 shows the overall reporting of women's experiences of discrimination across a range of areas of life. While women of different racial or ethnic backgrounds reported different rates of discrimination, the top two issues for women across racial and ethnic identities are when applying for jobs and when being paid or promoted equally.

Among all women, more than four in ten (41%) report having personally experienced discrimination because they are women when it comes to being paid equally or considered for promotion. Roughly a third (31%) of all women say they have been discriminated against because they are women when applying for jobs (Chart 3).

Women of each racial or ethnic group studied by the survey (Black, Latina, white, Native American, and Asian American) also report equal pay or promotion and applying for jobs as the top two situations in which they personally have been discriminated against because they are women. Results for each racial or ethnic group of women are included in the full report.

Survey background

All references to gender are based on respondents' self-identified gender. This report presents the experiences of American women. There will be a separate report on men's experiences.

The survey was conducted January 26 - April 9, 2017, among a nationally representative, probability-based telephone (cell and landline) sample of 3,453 adults age 18 or older. The survey included nationally representative samples of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, as well as white Americans; men and women, and LGBTQ adults. This report presents the results specifically for a nationally representative probability sample of 1596 U.S. adult women. Other reports analyze each other group, and the final report will discuss major highlights from the series.


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