Mar 8, 2023
Working women have lower vitality, lower resilience, and greater emotional, financial Needs

As workplaces – and the workforce – in the United States continue to evolve, women grapple with more challenges and lower vitality than their male counterparts, according to research from The Cigna Group.

Utilizing our proprietary Evernorth Vitality Index, we surveyed more than 10,000 U.S. adults to explore the relationship between vitality, health, and productivity – the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

“Overall, we found that only 18% of U.S. adults experience high vitality – the capacity to pursue life with health, strength and energy,” said Dr. Stuart Lustig, national medical director for behavioral health at Evernorth, the health services division of The Cigna Group. “When we took a deep dive into the vitality of those in the workforce, we found striking differences between women and men. Not only do working women experience lower vitality, they have less resilience, are lonelier, have greater emotional and financial needs, and feel less competent and autonomous than their male counterparts.”

Vitality, resilience, and loneliness among working women

Employed adults have an average vitality level of 69.5, which is in the medium range (48 to 86 out of 100). The average level for working men is higher, at 72.1; the average for working women is lower, at 67.0. While this gap of almost five points is significant, when we examine workers’ responses to some important questions, the gender gap looks more like a chasm.

Overall health is a contributor to vitality – and in general, working women are not in as good health as working men. The biggest gap is seen in in mental health. Working women are significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with clinical depression or anxiety (27% vs. 12%), yet they are less likely than working men to seek professional help (21% vs. 24%). In the general population, however, this gap doesn’t exist: 20% of women and 20% of men had visited a mental health professional in the past year.

Women also tend to work fewer hours, for smaller companies, and are more likely to be in a fully remote job. While these differences seem to enable a better work/life balance  – for example, only 16% of women say their personal life suffers because of work, compared with 21% of men – women also are less likely to have access to health and wellness benefits at work, such as health insurance (60% vs. 63%), paid parental or caretaking leave (17% to 21%), workplace programs to maximize health, such as fitness, nutrition, coaching, and stress management (27% to 32%), and employee assistance programs to help employees work through their problems (26% to 32%). While 89% of men have access to at least some benefits in this category, 17% of working women – almost one out of five – have access to none. “Those without a clear path to care, such as behavioral health benefits, are less likely to get the help they need,” Lustig said.

Working women tend to be less resilient than working men; 45% of working women have high resilience, vs. 56% of working men. Working women also are lonelier, with a loneliness score of 59% vs. 52% among working men.

Women at work: Fewer hours, lower paychecks

In 2022, the average working woman earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Our own research found that 41% of the working women we surveyed earned less than $50,000 a year, compared with 23% of working men. When looking at higher incomes, 44% of men earned more than $100,000 a year, while only 24% of women fell into that income bracket.

Some of this disparity can be attributed to the number of hours worked. While 32% of working women say they work fewer than 30 hours a week, the same is true for only 22% of working men. At the other end of the spectrum, 47% of working women say they work more than 40 hours a week, compared with 54% of working men.

Working women also are significantly less likely to have earned a four-year college degree (40% vs. 60% working men). This is despite more women earning degrees than men every year since 2011.

Additionally, about 40% of working women are independent contractors, temporary workers, or work on call. Of that group, only 31% have recently looked for a full-time job with benefits, largely because their current arrangement allows them to create their own hours.

While women and men in the workforce report similar levels of social determinants of health, many more women are fearful that their income will not cover living expenses (37% vs. 27%), and 28% of women said they eat less than they should because there wasn’t enough money or food, vs. 23% of men.

How employers can boost women’s vitality and encourage worker retention

Women say they are less likely to leave their job in the next year than working men, likely because they recently returned to work after pandemic-related job losses or gaps. However, their lower overall job satisfaction (86% vs. 91%) and lower satisfaction with work benefits (76% vs. 86%) may lead to less long-term loyalty, as fewer working women than men see themselves with the same employer three years from now (68% vs. 78%).

Women also are less likely than men to have been promoted in the past year (11% vs. 18%), recognized for an achievement at work (22% vs. 26%), or joined a work development or training program (6% vs. 10%).

Yet, when employers take action to foster high vitality among their workers, they are likely to see less absenteeism, better employee retention, and more high-achieving workers.

“Beyond physical and mental health, we’ve identified six lesser-known dimensions of health that are essential to building a culture of health and elevating employees’ vitality,” Dr. Lustig said. They are:

  • Environmental well-being, which includes providing a supportive and safe workplace.
  • Financial well-being, which includes access to health insurance and opportunities to increase compensation.
  • Social well-being, which includes fostering connections in the workplace.
  • Intellectual well-being, which includes opportunities to learn new skills.
  • Spiritual well-being, which includes making workers feel valued, nurturing autonomy, and encouraging mindfulness.
  • Occupational well-being, which includes offering employees tools to maximize their work-life balance.

“Our data suggests that vitality is a catalyst for growth that can fuel a healthier workforce – as well as healthier, more engaged families and communities,” he said.

Elderly couple happy and full of vitality

Read the report: Vitality Fuels a Healthy Workforce

By better understanding vitality and the factors that impact it, employers can help fuel a healthier workforce and drive business and economic growth.

Read the full findings