According to the 2012 American Community Survey, 12.36 percent of all women (19,542,027) living in the United States have difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation (mobility), self-care, or independent living.1
The most commonly cited the number of people with disabilities in the United States, 56.7 million, comes from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which uses a more liberal definition of disability. This data set showed that 19.8 percent of women have disabilities compared to 17.4% of men.2
Neither of these surveys included people residing in institutions (nursing homes, prisons) or actively serving in the military.
Main Causes of Disability
The main disabler of women is arthritis, which is experienced by nearly a quarter of all women in the United States. The main disabler of men is back problems, affecting about 16 percent of both men and women. The following chart lists conditions that lead to disability and the prevalence among men and women in the United States in 2005.
Arthritis or rheumatism
Back or spine problems
Long or respiratory problems
Mental or emotional problems
Stiffness or deformity of limbs/extremities
Blindness or vision problems
Deafness or hearing problems
High blood pressure
Head or spinal cord injury
Paralysis of any kind*
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2004 Panel, Wave 5, June--September 2005.
*Based on a small sample size, likely unreliable, and should be interpreted with caution
Rural Women with Disabilities
Among women not living in a metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area, 17.4 percent have a disability4 and represent a high-risk group.5 They tend to be poorer, in worse health, less educated, and more dependent on government programs than urban women with disabilities6 and are aptly termed "the poorest of the poor."7
Marital Status and Education of Women with Disabilities
Current statistics on marital status and educational attainment for women with disabilities are not available without going back to the original population-based data sets available through the U.S. Census Bureau.
Employment Status of Women with Disabilities
Slightly more than one third (36.7 percent) are employed part-time or full-time for any number of weeks during the year.8 The median annual earnings of women with disabilities in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars was $16,468 compared to $23,196 for men with disabilities, $25,463 for women without disabilities, and $36,117 for men without disabilities.8 Put another way, women with disabilities earn $.46 on the nondisabled male dollar and $.65 on the nondisabled female dollar.
Poverty among Women with Disabilities
Poverty statistics for women with a work-related disability were almost three times higher in 2012 (34.1 percent) than for women without a work-related disability (13.4 percent).9 Poverty among women with disabilities age 65 and over is double that of men with disabilities the same age (6.4 percent versus 3 percent, respectively).10
Women with Disabilities in Correctional Facilities
Analyses of women in a database of nearly 4,000 inmates11 found higher rates of psychosis, depressive disorders, personality disorders, and neuropsychological dysfunction compared to the general population.
The female inmate ADHD prevalence rate (15.1 percent) was higher than the male inmate ADHD rate (9.8 percent), consistent with some previous studies, and was highly correlated with comorbid psychopathologies.12
Interviews with 235 randomly selected individuals from four Canadian prisons found that 43.4 percent reported a history of TBI (loss of consciousness or feeling dazed, confused, or disoriented).13 Of these, 37.3 percent were women.
Women with Disabilities in Nursing Homes
All women who live in nursing homes, by definition, have physical, intellectual, or emotional impairments that limit their ability to care for themselves and live independently. In 2012, women comprised 67.7 percent (936,765) of all individuals living in nursing homes,14 7.7 percent of whom were under age 65.15
1 U.S. Census Bureau. (2012a). B18101: SEX BY AGE BY DISABILITY STATUS - Universe: Civilian noninstitutionalized population, 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t
3 Brault, M. W., Hootman, J., Helmick, C. G., Theis, K. A., & Armour, B. S. (2009). Prevalence and most common causes of disability among adults, United States. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report, 58(16), 421-426.
4 U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). B18030: DISABILITY STATUS BY SEX BY AGE BY POVERTY STATUS FOR THE CIVILIAN NONINSTITUTIONALIZED POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER - Universe: Civilian noninstitutionalized population 5 years and over for whom poverty status is determined, 2007 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_10_3YR_GCT1810.US26&prodType=table
5 Harper, M. (2001). Rural diversity: Focus on reproductive issues Panel 3: Speaker 2. Women's Health Issues, 11(1), 50-55.
6 Szalda-Petree, A., Seekins, T., & Innes, W. (2000). Women with disabilities: Employment, income and health The Prevention Connection, IV, 1 (pp. 5). Missoula, Montana: University of Montana Rural Institute on Disabilities.
7 Mulder, P. L., Shellenberger, S., Streiegel, R., Jumper-Thurman, P., Danda, C. E., Kenkel, M. B., & et al. (2000). The behavioral health care needs of rural women: An APA report to Congress: American Psychological Association.
8 U.S. Census Bureau. (2012b). B18140: MEDIAN EARNINGS IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (IN 2012 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS) BY DISABILITY STATUS BY SEX FOR THE CIVILIAN NONINSTITUTIONALIZED POPULATION 16 YEARS AND OVER WITH EARNINGS - Universe: Civilian noninstitutionalized population 16 years and over with earnings in the past 12 months, 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t
9 Nazarov, Z., & Lee, C. G. (2012). Disability Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Retrieved August 16, 2014, from www.disabilitystatistics.org
10 U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). B18030: DISABILITY STATUS BY SEX BY AGE BY POVERTY STATUS FOR THE CIVILIAN NONINSTITUTIONALIZED POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER - Universe: Civilian noninstitutionalized population 5 years and over for whom poverty status is determined, 2007 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t
11 Coolidge, F. L., Segal, D. L., Klebe, K. J., Cahill, B. S., & Whitcomb, J. M. (2009). Psychometric properties of the Coolidge Correctional Inventory in a sample of 3,962 prison inmates. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 27, 713-726. doi: 10.1002/bsl.896
12 Cahill, B. S., Coolidge, F. L., Segal, D. L., Klebe, K. J., Marle, P. D., & A., O. K. (2012). Prevalence of ADHD and Its Subtypes in Male and Female Adult Prison Inmates. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 30(2), 154-166. doi: 10.1002/bsl.2004
13 Colantonio, A., Kim, H., Allen, S., Asbridge, M., Petgrave, J., & Brochu, S. (2014). Traumatic Brain Injury and Early Life Experiences Among Men and Women in a Prison Population. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 1-9. doi: 10.1177/1078345814541529
14 Harris-Kojetin, L., Sengupta, M., Park-Lee, E., & Valverde, R. (2013). Long-term care services in the United States: 2013 overview. Hyattsville, MD.
15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Table 1. Number, percent distribution, and rate per 10,000 population of nursing home residents by selected resident characteristics and age at interview: United States, 2004. Nursing Home Current Residence. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nnhsd/Estimates/nnhs/Estimates_Demographics_Tables.pdf#Table01