Thursday, December 12, 2013

The State of Girls: Unfinished Business

Although girls in the United States have made substantial progress in the classroom and elsewhere, persistent disparities and challenges exist that could keep many girls from achieving their full potential. Black/African American and Hispanic/Latina girls are far more likely than their white counterparts to face an array of socioeconomic hurdles that range from growing up in poverty or a low-income household to dropping out of school and struggling with obesity, according to a report released today by the Girl Scout Research Institute. 

The State of Girls: Unfinished Business charts the often-vast disparities that cleave the girl experience along racial and ethnic lines. For example, the report finds that poverty rates among black/African American, Hispanic/Latina, and Native American girls ages 5 to 17 are more than twice that of white and Asian American girls. In the United States today, 21 percent of all girls live in poverty, and the rates are higher for black/African American girls (37 percent), Hispanic/Latina girls (33 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native girls (34 percent), as compared to white girls (12 percent).

 “For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has provided all girls, regardless of race, religion and social class, the opportunity to reach their full potential so that they can lead change and live productive lives,” said Mary Vitek, Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council CEO. “We are committed now, more than ever, to helping girls excel personally and academically as we empower them to address the issues girls around the world are facing.”

Indeed, The State of Girls documents the fact that girls are now more likely than boys to graduate from high school and that the teen birthrate has reached its lowest recorded levels. Yet when researchers looked at the differences among girls in terms of race and ethnicity, it became clear that white girls fare much better than black/African American and Hispanic/Latina girls.

Many girls have low reading and math proficiency, but when race is factored in, disparities in education are overwhelming. Eight out of 10 black/African American and Hispanic/Latina girls are considered “below proficient” in reading by fourth grade, whereas 5 out of 10 white girls are considered “below proficient” in reading by fourth grade.




Obesity rates are high for girls. Nearly half of black/African American (44 percent) and Hispanic/Latina (41 percent) girls ages 5 to 17 are overweight or obese, as compared to 26 percent of white girls. Girls also struggle with emotional health. Thirty-four percent of high school girls had self-reported symptoms of depression during the past year. This percentage is highest for black/African American girls. Six out of 10 black/African American girls report symptoms of depression.

“The key to keep in mind, though, is that data is not destiny,” said Judy Schoenberg, a lead researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute. “As a society we can do something about this. At Girl Scouts of the USA, we are doing something about this, and will continue to develop programs that meet the needs of all today’s girls.”

In addition to the disparities among racial and ethnic groups, the report also documents the changing demographics among American girls. In 2000, 62 percent of all girls ages 5 to 17 were white. By 2010, that proportion had decreased to 54 percent, and it is projected to continue to decrease to 47 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, the Hispanic/Latina girl population has grown steadily. In 2000, 16 percent of the girl population ages 5 to 17 was Hispanic/Latina. In 2010, that proportion had grown to 22 percent and is projected to reach 31 percent in 2030. The current white majority is expected to be less than half of all girls (47 percent) by 2030.

"We see the changing demographic as an opportunity to expand the movement’s reach by introducing Girl Scouting to a booming population that would benefit from the myriad of opportunities we provide girls that help them succeed,” said Mary Vitek. “For the past few years, our Council has worked to revamp our staff and volunteer structure and garner the support of corporations and community partners to implement initiatives to better serve girls of all backgrounds.”

Written in conjunction with the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., The State of Girls: Unfinished Business is the first report of its kind to focus exclusively on girls, and it paints a detailed picture of the social and economic lives that the 26 million American girls ages 5 to 17 lead today. The report draws its findings from analyses of large national data sets, including the U.S. Census.