“I’m dying” is the response every working mother thinks to herself when asked the question, “How ya doin?” Instead of telling the truth, women say “fine.” The reality is that the stress of trying to “have it all,” at the same time, is deadly.
In 1963 Betty Friedan dared to admit that women weren’t doing fine. She identified the frustration experienced by many women who asked “Is this all?” It wasn’t the desire to work outside the home that Betty identified. Twenty-three million women were working outside the home in 1962 (pg 27 President’s Commission on the Status of Women of 1963). The problem was that women were usually relegated to the lowest paying jobs such as clerical help, waitresses, factory workers, nurses, and teachers (pg 27). Companies had dual pay scales for men and women (pg 28). Pregnancy signaled the involuntary end of employment. Women experienced limitations in the workplace and in higher education. For example in 1970, the ratio of men to women at Harvard was 4 to 1. It wasn’t until 2007 that women reached parity with men at Harvard.[i]
Ms. Friedan initiated a revolution. She identified the importance of higher education for women. By 1970 more Bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women than men. By 1985 more women than men earned Master’s degrees. Since 2005 women have earned more PhD’s than men.[ii] As women have attained higher education, they have broken barriers in medicine, law, and science. In 2014 women owned 7.8 million businesses in America. Those businesses generated One Trillion Dollars in revenue. [iii]
Women now make up over half of the professional and technical workforce in America. Yet women still spend three times as long as men on domestic chores, and twice as much time on child care.[iv] Women haven’t won the war fighting for equality in the work place, but they are much closer. The bigger problem is that women never demanded equality at home. Unfortunately, women expected themselves to simultaneously achieve professional and domestic excellence. The pursuit of “having it all” is a uniquely female malady. As a result, women are suffering from pathologic levels of stress resulting in an unprecedented rise in health problems.
Heart Disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in women. Over 400,000 women die each year from Cardiovascular Disease. Recent research shows that the rate of heart disease in women age 35-44 is actually increasing.[v]
Autoimmune diseases are the underlying cause of more than 100 serious diseases of more than 50 million Americans. More than 75% of those are women. Autoimmune diseases are within the top ten leading causes of all deaths among U.S. women under 65. Moreover, autoimmune diseases represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States.
The fact that women have enhanced immune systems, compared to men, makes them more susceptible to autoimmune diseases.[vi] While medical researchers have determined that autoimmune diseases are increasing, they have been unable to identify the cause.[vii]
Women who are primarily affected by autoimmune diseases are in their childbearing years.[viii] At least 50% of autoimmune disorders has been attributed to “unknown trigger factors”. However it has been documented that physical and psychological stress have been associated with the development of autoimmune disease. Many retrospective studies found that a high proportion (up to 80%) of patients reported uncommon emotional stress before disease onset. Unfortunately, not only does stress cause the disease, but the disease itself also causes significant stress in the patients, creating a vicious cycle.[ix] Worse yet, the best treatment for autoimmune diseases is a healthy lifestyle, including reducing stress, regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest.[x] The time demands placed on women trying to “have it all” predictably interfere with each.
Alcohol abuse is also increasing in women. More women are drinking now than at any time in recent history. Between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for drunken driving rose 30%, while male arrests dropped more than 7%. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of young women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52%, as compared to only 9% in men. Nearly 650,000 women follow “Moms Who Need Wine” on Facebook.[xi]
Life Expectancy of women has always exceeded that of men. Except for the aberration of WWI, women’s life expectancies, from 1900 through the 1970’s, was steadily increasing at a faster pace than that of men. In 1970 women’s life expectancy exceeded that of men by 7.6 years. However by 1980 the difference began to decline to 7.4 years. In 1990 the difference was 7.0 years; by 2010 it was 4.9 years; by 2012 it was 4.8 years.[xii]
Depression in women is epidemic. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women will develop depression sometime during their life. Women are twice as likely as men to have depression.[xiii] Depression can occur at any age, but it’s most common in women between the ages of 40 and 59.[xiv] Studies have demonstrated that the rate of depression is increasing.[xv] The severity of the problem is illustrated by the stunning increase in suicides among middle aged American women. Suicides have increased 28% over the last decade. Between 1999 and 2010 the suicide rate increased 40%. Women are three times more likely than men to attempt suicide.[xvi]
Drug Abuse in women quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Forty two women in the United States die each day from prescription drug overdoses. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the Director of the CDC reported that “prescription drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed in women.” “Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying from overdoses at rates we have never seen before.”[xvii]
While each of these maladies has been documented, nobody has correlated the rise in health problems for women with the rise in professional and academic achievement. Given the deleterious effects on women of the stress of trying to “have it all” at the same time, it is imperative that women have the courage to make the choices that will improve their lives. If women are to survive, they must evolve. Women must obtain a compass to guide them in their search for Happily Ever After. That compass is a new book written by Malia Litman. She was a Senior Trial Partner and the mother of three children. Malia waited too long to opt for her Happily Ever After. Her perspective as a professional, a woman who tried to balance children and professional success, and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease within two years of almost losing it all, is compelling. Malia found her Happily Ever After. Perhaps other women can learn from her example, before dying from the stress of trying to “have it all.”