Which Countries Value Women’s Health Highest? The Rankings Might Surprise You

Five diverse women

From feeling sadness or stress on a daily basis to enjoying the positives of getting older, women across the globe have more in common than you might think.

Many of us have spent our lives thinking we had very little in common with someone living across the globe…until Covid hit. The pandemic has been a tragic and unparalleled event, but it has also shown us that there are some things that transcend our country of origin.

Even before the pandemic laid bare the world’s commonalities and differences, the women’s health company Hologic set out to figure out what countries have in common — and where they differ when it comes to women’s health. The result of this extensive survey, known as the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index, proves that although our lives may look vastly different, women around the world have more in common than you might think regarding perceptions of well-being. (Hologic has also committed to conducting this survey for several years going forward, so they’ll be able to measure changes, which can hopefully lead to improvements in women’s health.)

Understanding the areas in which countries are struggling to support women’s health is crucial in figuring how to improve health outcomes, and Hologic’s unprecedented study provides some major insights that may shape how nations approach women’s health in the future. We’ve highlighted some of the most surprising things we learned from the Index, below. What’s the overall takeaway? That when it comes to taking care of women’s health, every country has a lot of work to do.

When taken together, five dimensions of women’s health can explain more than 80 percent of women’s average life expectancy at birth.

Hologic asked 60,000 women and girls from 116 countries and territories in over 140 languages about their health experiences over the past year and discovered that they could break health outcomes into five distinct dimensions: Preventive Care, Emotional Health, Opinions of Health and Safety, Basic Needs, and Individual Health. 

Out of the 116 countries ranked on how well they’re supporting women’s health, the U.S. came in 26th — far below other high-income countries. Taiwan ranked number one, although like every other country, it had areas that needed major improvement: For example, the country’s score on preventive care — which includes screenings for cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted infections, and diabetes — was surprisingly low. 

Feeling angry or sad? You’re not alone.

Almost one in four women around the world said they felt anger on an average day (23 percent), with a similar percentage saying they felt sad (26 percent). In the U.S., more than one-third of women and girls said they felt sad, compared to just one-fifth of men. Stress and worry levels for American women were alarmingly high as well, with 53 percent of American women feeling stress and 48 percent feeling worry on an average day. It’s possible these numbers were so high because of the pandemic, but they were higher than the global average for women, which clocked in at 40 percent for worry and 38 percent for stress. Regardless of why these numbers are so high, they represent an unsettling trend — the average woman’s stress increased five percent worldwide in the past year alone.

Teen pregnancy is generally detrimental to a woman’s overall health outcomes.

In nearly all regions, women who report first becoming pregnant before age 19 score worse in every one of the five dimensions of health laid out in the Index, when compared with women who first became pregnant at a later age.

In the U.S., 24 percent of women had their first pregnancy at age 18 or younger, and that number jumps to 36 percent when solely considering Black women. Higher education also seems to be impacted by teen pregnancy; only five percent of teen mothers overall report having received a bachelor’s degree or higher. In a recent conversation with Katie, Hologic CEO Steve MacMillan addressed the dire consequences of early pregnancy: “Women who give birth in their teens statistically have a lower life expectancy,” he explained. “Many aren’t able to finish their education, and that leads to a lifelong difference in income, and oftentimes leads to less access to healthcare. The biggest thing we can do in the United States is to focus on providing more equitable care, and that will lift the entire population.”

We can all learn something about how women are treated in Australia and New Zealand.

In both Australia and New Zealand, social-protection programs under a universal healthcare system benefit women of all socioeconomic levels. They’re proven to lead to lower mortality rates among the most vulnerable populations and provide insight as to why the health gap between the richest and poorest citizens of these countries is narrower than in any region in the world. Australia has made a concerted financial effort to invest in women’s health measures, too, like increased screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and endometriosis. They have also committed substantial funds to combating other issues that threaten women’s health, like domestic violence.

Care about preventive care? So does Latvia*.

Latvia scores the highest in preventive care, which is one of the primary indicators of a woman’s long-term health outcomes — due in no small part to the fact that 76 percent of Latvian women were tested for high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of cardiac disease and the leading cause of death for men and women globally. 43 percent of women in Latvia were tested for diabetes and 35 percent for cancer. In contrast, only one in five American women has been tested for any type of cancer in the past 12 months, despite cancer being the second leading killer of women. Make sure to check with your doctor to see if you’re overdue for a screening — it’s a simple task that could end up saving your life.

Getting older can be a good thing.

Older women (aged 76 and up) have significantly better emotional health scores than younger women. In America, those 60 or older have significantly higher emotional health scores than younger women, and those scores continue to rise until women are in their late 70s. So if you’re dreading getting older, consider this a reminder that women only get happier with age — and maybe with retirement

Wherever you live, and regardless of your gender, we all need to do better when it comes to putting measures in place that’ll ensure that women live long and healthy lives. Acknowledging the areas in which we need to improve will help us better understand how to make our world a safer and healthier place for all women.   

*Note: The survey was conducted starting in February 2020, with most of the data collected after March when the healthcare systems of many countries were feeling the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of women who saw a doctor in that time or had access to preventative testing (such as for high blood pressure) may be related to the Covid hospitalization rates or other measures that relate to the strain of the pandemic on a country’s medical resources.