Study of girls in Minnesota finds challenges, but a ray of promise

WILLMAR -- Among the nearly 140,000 children in Minnesota considered to be living in poverty, 55 percent live in rural Minnesota. Women are the heads of household in a majority of poor families with children. Poverty rates are higher for girls th...

WILLMAR -- Among the nearly 140,000 children in Minnesota considered to be living in poverty, 55 percent live in rural Minnesota.

Women are the heads of household in a majority of poor families with children. Poverty rates are higher for girls than for boys.

In its latest research report, "Status of Girls in Minnesota," the Women's Foundation of Minnesota has outlined a picture that isn't always pretty but does offer some hope for the future of the state's girls. The group's research indicates Minnesota girls are full of potential, Carol McGee Johnson of the foundation told a gather Tuesday morning at Ridgewater College.

"Obviously, out here in Greater Minnesota, children in poverty is a big issue," Johnson said.

The research indicates that girls work hard at home and at school. For the most part, they get good grades, take care of themselves and avoid risky behavior.


Still, the report details challenges that the state's girls face in a world where they still too often face racism and sexism as they move out into the world, Johnson said.

The report looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Minnesota Student Survey, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Education and other sources to examine the well-being of girls in five areas.

Johnson, the foundation's vice president of community philanthropy and programs, took the group of about 20 people through each of the categories -- socioeconomic landscape, security and safety, reproductive health, mental health and education.

Many of the people in her audience work with prevention programs and are advocates for women or for people living in poverty. Johnson often asked them to share their views with her, and they did. They said they found many of the things in the study to be true. Some talked about the need to convince more young people to go on to higher education after high school. Others talked about the low self esteem they see in the young people they work with. Finding jobs with a livable wage was another need identified.

Birth rates for teenagers of color are "drastically higher" in Minnesota, and while teen pregnancies are in decline nationwide, they are growing in some groups in Minnesota, Johnson said.

The highest teen birth rate in Minnesota is among Hispanic teens, she said, and Kandiyohi County has one of the highest rates in the state.

According to the group's research, girls have lower self esteem than boys in all cases, regardless of economic status or grade level.

Their poor self esteem correlates with a number of risky behaviors, Johnson said. That can include poor health habits like eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and drug or alcohol abuse.


Roughly one-third of girls in Kandiyohi County reported that they had had suicidal thoughts. Less than one-quarter of the boys reported suicidal thoughts.

The study measured college readiness in four areas -- English, math, reading and science -- and determined that 28 percent of girls in the state are actually ready for college, despite their higher grades and more time spent studying. The study found that 36 percent of boys are ready.

"It's not great for boys, either, but it's worse for girls," Johnson said. "For poor girls, it can become too big a roadblock."

One problem for many girls is that they spend more time outside school doing chores and babysitting than boys do, she said. "Girls are playing this balancing act from an early age."

The report also offers suggestions for action. Some require government action, like a recommendation to invest in early care and education interventions or expanding welfare programs to help women in poverty further their educations.

Others offer suggestions outside government, like a statewide task force of advocates to address the problems noted in the report.

After the gathering, some of those attending gathered in small groups to keep talking about the issues in the report. Trista McColley Mages said the report's findings didn't surprise her.

"I thought it was sadly more of what I already know," she said. She works with Pathways, a program that works with victims of sexual assault based in Granite Falls.


"I wish we were moving in a better direction faster," she added.

Connie Schmoll, director of Shelter House Inc. in Willmar, said it was interesting to see the information presented in charts and graphs, but she was already familiar with the information. "We see it every day at the shelter," she said.

What To Read Next
Get Local