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Beyond Bootstraps: Lifting Up Young Women’s Voices About How to Build an Economy That Works for Them

April 29, 2024  • Céline Apollon & Heather McCulloch

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The notion of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” deeply embedded in the American psyche, belies the fact that it is physically impossible to achieve. What if we flipped the script for young women? What if we focused on supporting them in doing what is achievable? What if we broke down barriers and built systems designed to maximize their capacity to thrive?

The majority of young women preparing to enter or entering the workforce today will be working much or most of their adult lives.1 They will be key contributors to the economic security of their families—as co-, primary, or sole breadwinners—and the strength of our national economy. Yet they will face more barriers than on-ramps to economic security because our systems were never designed to support them to succeed.

Women in the Economy (WE), a two-year research and action project at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, included interviews and a national survey of women across the country to get their insights about how to build an economy that works for them. Beyond Bootstraps highlights findings from the final phase of the research—in-depth interviews and a focus group with young women (ages 15-24) who are preparing for, entering, or in the early phases of their working lives.

The WE team asked young interviewees about the challenges they face, the solutions they envision, and their ideas about how to build an economy designed to work for them. Their rich insights—shared themes and individual voices—are highlighted in this brief to inform philanthropy, policymakers, private, and nonprofit sector leaders about how to support young women to strive, thrive, and reach their full potential.


 This report was developed in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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