$500 Million Is a Small Price to Pay for Women's Health

Jeb Bush suggested that the federal government is spending too much money on female-specific services. He's wrong.

Jim Young / Reuters

Just what is women’s health worth?

Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush took some heat for a misguided remark, delivered in the context of calling for Planned Parenthood to be stripped of its federal funding. “I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Bush said.

Bush later tried to walk it back, saying that he misspoke and that, of course, the funds from Planned Parenthood should be funneled into other, more worthy, women’s health initiatives.

Whether it’s at Planned Parenthood or other projects, money spent on women’s health is money well spent. Of course, the motivation for providing health services to women shouldn’t come down to dollars and cents, and it certainly shouldn’t be about political gamesmanship. But for those who want cost-benefit justification, there’s ample reason.

A recent paper put out by NBER highlights the importance of female health for financial success in developing countries by comparing the economic gains enjoyed based on targeted health increases for men or women. The conclusion? “Female health is more conducive to economic development.”

Healthier women, who are able to control their fertility, increase their educational attainment and participate in the labor force in greater numbers. That results in economic gains for their households. Those without the ability to control their own fertility had decreased opportunities for education and higher wages.

The study, conducted by David E. Bloom of Harvard, Michael Kuhn of the Vienna Institute of Demography, and Klaus Prettner of the Institute of Statistics and Mathematical Methods in Economics in Vienna, also found that focusing health initiatives on men provided a boost mostly to short-term growth, while doing the same for women boosted long-term growth. But it’s not just about controlling fertility—decreasing illness and disease, helped to bolster the education and wellbeing of the household, allowing for increased longevity in the workforce and greater economic progress for the whole family.

The same can be said for the importance of increasing the health and wellbeing of women of the United States. Greater access to birth control has been shown to increase the likelihood of college attendance and decrease the likelihood of dropping out before completion. And even in difficult economic times, a college degree remains one of the best ways to increase wages over the duration of a career.

Women’s ability to work is important for the next generation, too. Daughters who have working moms are more likely to wind up holding jobs themselves, allowing them to contribute to both the workforce and the economic wellbeing of their families. And sons of working mothers are more likely to pitch in around the house, and put in more hours caring for family members, lessening the care-taking burden of women.

Health is critical to this endeavor. Preventative screening and early treatment of common medical issues—such as cervical cancer, which disproportionately affects and kills women with decreased access to health care—means that fewer women have to take time away from the workforce for treatment, fewer women have to leave the workforce due to a serious illness, and fewer women die because of diseases that could have perhaps been treated or cured had vaccination or early treatment been available.

Planned Parenthood receives about $530 million from the government annually, or $3 per woman per year. Seems pretty worth it.