Girlhood in Washington State by the Numbers

In August 2014, the Girl Scouts Research Institute (GSRI) released a report that “examines girls’ well-being across each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The rankings are a based on a “well-being index” that includes physical health and safety, economic well-being, education, emotional health, and extracurricular/out-of-school time activities.

Washington state ranked in the middle of the pack (#24 out of 50), and narrowly avoided falling into the bottom half. According to the study, Washington is a decidedly average place to be a girl. The state ranks 32nd in physical health and safety, 29th in education, 21st in extracurricular activities, 20th economic well being, and 16th in Emotional health.

The state’s “meh” score on girl-justice follows an “eh” score for child well-being from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state ranked 18th in the foundation’s 2014 Data Book, which looked at economic well-being, health, education, and family and community indicators.

Washington state is home to innovative and groundbreaking ideas in business and philanthropy, but two sets of indicators place us in the eh/meh range where girls are concerned. What’s the deal? Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll take a deeper dive into some of these indicators to see what they can tell us about girlhood in Washington, and what we still need to learn.

To kick things off, I’ll look at my personal favorite indicator: Extracurricular and Out-of-School-Activities. The GSRI looked at six statistics to create the indicator:

  • Girls ages 6–17 not participating in one or more organized activities outside of school (parental report, 2011–12)
  • Girls ages 6–17 who are not engaged in school activities (parental report, 2011–12)
  • Girls ages 12–17 not involved in community or volunteer work (parental report, 2011–12)
  • Girls ages 6–17 who watch television three or more hours per day (parental report, 2011–12)
  • Girls ages 6–17 who use electronic devices three or more hours per day (parental report, 2011–12
  • Girls ages 6–17 who don’t attend weekly religious services (parental report, 2011–12)

The GSRI published the results for one of them: “Girls Ages 6–17 Who Participate in One or More Activities Outside of School.” According to the report, 80% of girls in Washington participate in out-of-school activities. In keeping with the theme of “meh” scores, WA is in line with the national average of 82%.

Let’s pick this indicator apart. There’s a lot we don’t know about this statistic, especially what youth development practitioners call “dosage”. “Participating” could mean a lot of things: it could mean weekly programming, monthly programming, or a week of summer camp. And “activities outside of school” is broad and vague. It could refer to sports, church activities, school clubs, community programs, and more.

Rankings like these have to use big, vague indicators in order to be meaningful. We know you can’t compare apples and oranges, but you can compare fruit from one state to fruit from another. When you dig into these statistics, you quickly end up in the weeds with lots of detail, too much detail to make big comparisons. But if you look down on the states from 50 thousand feet, you can start to make comparisons.

The good news is that 4 out of 5 girls in the state are accessing out-of-school programs. We don’t know how often, what type, or for what duration, but we know that 80% of girls in Washington are getting something. The bad news is that 20% of girls don’t participate in any activities outside of school: no sports, no clubs, no community center programs, nothing. Many questions remain about what 80% of our girls are getting, but we know what 20% of our girls aren’t getting: meaningful girl programming that helps them connect to their communities and grow into healthy adults.

That’s a problem for our state. If we want to do better than “meh”, girls and adults across sectors need to look for new ways to get girls into high quality programs. This problem is not easy. We don’t know why 1 in 5 girls don’t participate in out-of-school programs, we don’t know where (geographically) these girls are, we don’t know how old they are, and we don’t know what programs would be relevant and engaging.

Despite these unknowns I’m optimistic. On a state level, we can start diving into the weeds and picking apart these more complex issues. If we can apply some of that innovative energy our state is known for to these essential questions, we can make significant progress on this critical indicator of well-being for girls.

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