The body of serious research into women’s health now includes many reliable studies that help us understand the unique biological factors that affect women. There is also intriguing research on the wide range of social determinants impacting the health of women and girls.

The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade in June, 2022, may have intensified the focus on women’s health. In November, 2023, President Biden launched the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. On February 21, 2024, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden announced $100 million in federal funding to fuel research into women's health.

At the Urban Institute’s Policies for Action, a grant-making initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we support research at the intersection of policy, health, and racial equity. This month, we spotlight some of our grantees’ recent research on women’s health.

Spotlighting Our Latest Women’s Health Research

We are interested in policy that supports women’s health, with a particular lens on the unique physical and environmental dynamics that affect women’s health in marginalized, Indigenous, and rural communities.

Recently funded projects include investigations into childbirth morbidity and mortality rates, paid leave and workplace flexibility policies, economic supports like direct cash payments and small-dollar mortgages, and tax policies like expansion of the Child Tax Credit. These are all areas where policy improvements could powerfully elevate the lives and health of women. 

Researchers at the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity, at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, are studying ways to reverse the U.S.’s 25% increase in maternal mortality over the past 20 years. Their study, entitled Racial Justice after Childbirth: Policy to Improve Postpartum Health Care Access and Quality is looking at why “Black and Indigenous people have 3–4 times greater risk of maternal mortality compared with white people…” and why “Rural residents and Medicaid beneficiaries are also at increased risk of maternal morbidity and mortality, and pregnant people with multiple marginalized racial, geographic, or socioeconomic identities may be at highest risk.” Their study is one of the first to take an antiracist lens to studying postpartum care. They are studying how these outcomes relate to access to health insurance.

At the University of Alabama, researchers explore their state’s pilot program to reduce infant mortality, specifically asking how the Alabama pilot program affects infant mortality among the Black community. Read Reducing Black Infant Mortality in Alabama.

In two separate studies, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health is examining workplace flexibility policies and paid family leave as areas where women’s health could benefit from different ways of looking at work. The first study, Impacts of Workplace Flexibility Policies on The Health and Well-being of Workers and Families, notes that women in the United States spent “37 percent more time on household and care work than men” and that “Black and Latina women spent considerably more time on care work than either their male counterparts or White women.” They will conduct a nationwide survey on workplace flexibility practices, specifically examining the relationship between workplace flexibility and mental health outcomes.

IWPR’s second study, Impact of Paid Leave Policies on Health and Economic Wellbeing, is focused on mental health, and will examine the DC Paid Family Leave law passed in 2022 to give workers up to eight weeks of paid parental leave and up to six weeks of paid family leave. They are studying the impact of leave on the physical and mental health outcomes and economic well-being of workers and families between July 2020 and passage of the 2022 law. This study will also explore the correlation of paid leave use with income levels and residence in the city’s low-income areas.

Possibilities for Women’s Health Policy

There are an infinite number of interesting research topics that could inform policy with the goal of improving the lives of women. The invaluable role of women in households, communities, workplaces and business suggests that these would be well-placed investments. Policies for Action will continue to support, engage with, and share new evidence from our grantees and partners. 

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