SLO County women face serious challenges, study finds

A study released Friday shows that women and girls in San Luis Obispo County face high rates of various alarming problems, including chronic sadness, binge drinking, living independently in later years and teen pregnancy — especially among Latinas.

The study, titled “What Do Women Need? Issues Impacting Women and Girls in San Luis Obispo County,” was conducted by the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County’s Women’s Legacy Fund, which holds a $1 million endowment to make grants to women’s social improvement programs.

The goal of the study is to focus the community’s attention on women’s issues and the unique challenges women and girls face. It found three groups of women in the county with particular needs: teens, seniors and Latinas.

“For many people, San Luis Obispo offers an idyllic quality of life,” the study concluded. “However, even in this idyllic place, some women and girls struggle to meet their basic needs.”

The fund’s steering committee has determined that increasing women’s self-esteem is the best way to combat the problems outlined in the report.

The key findings of the study are:

• Chronic sadness is a problem for teenage girls. More than 40 percent of girls from ninth through 12th grades say they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks last year that they stopped doing some of their usual activities. The report does not say how this compares to state numbers.

• The rate of forcible rape in San Luis Obispo County almost doubles the statewide rate. San Luis Obispo County’s rape rate is 39 women per 100,000 of the population compared to 20 per 100,000 statewide.

• The rate of binge drinking locally is the highest in the state. Forty-six percent of local women 21 years and older reported a binge-drinking episode last year compared to 33 percent statewide. San Luis Obispo County tied with Marin County as having the highest rates of binge drinking in the state. For women, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion.

• Latinas account for a much higher rate of teen pregnancy and face other socioeconomic problems. Latinas make up 28 percent of the teen population in the county but account for 56 percent of teen pregnancies. Much higher percentages of Latinas compared with other ethnic groups — 32 percent versus 7 percent — do not have high school diplomas. Hispanic families are three times more likely to live in poverty than non-Hispanic families, and 42 percent of Latina households with no husband live in poverty.

• More than a quarter of women 75 years and older say they have difficulty living independently, a number similar to state levels. The availability of care is also an issue because of cost. Only three residential-care facilities accept low-income clients, and their beds are full and waiting lists are closed.

The study also shows that the issues women most care about are homelessness and child abuse, with 56 and 48 percent, respectively, of women citing these issues. Employment opportunities, substance abuse and water quality also ranked high in the list of concerns.

The fund collated data from dozens of sources and reports, primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau and the state Department of Public Health. The San Luis Obispo-based research firm Opinion Studies verified the validity and objectivity of the report.

“We made sure that all the data came from good, reliable sources,” said Robyn Letters, Opinion Studies owner. “We only included what was relevant, trustworthy and verifiable.”

The Women’s Legacy Fund Committee met Thursday to discuss the findings of the study and determined that the best course of action in light of the results would be to focus on women’s self-esteem, said Linda Reitner, the committee’s chairwoman.

“We really felt that self-esteem was at the root of a lot of the problems highlighted in the report,” she said. “If we can deal with that problem, we will be able to reduce many of women’s other problems.”

Accordingly, the study has prompted the Women’s Legacy Fund to focus its grant funding next year on women’s self-esteem programs. The fund made $32,000 in grants last year and said it hopes to give at least that much next year to programs that specifically promote women’s self-esteem.

Reitner said she also plans to hold a summit meeting of nonprofits next year to discuss the report and encourage them to develop self-esteem programs.

The report held a number of surprises, Reitner said. The biggest one was the fact that San Luis Obispo County tops the state in the rate of binge drinking among women.

“That was the part of the report that made all of us say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” she said.

The rape statistics and Latina pregnancy rate were also surprising because they had not seen these kind of statistics before, Reitner said.

To learn more about the Women’s Legacy Fund, visit www.wlfslo.org or call 543-3232.

Snapshot of SLO County women

Women residents

SLO County


% of population



Median age

41.7 years

36.6 years


Caucasian (including Latina)



Black/African American






Other race



Two or more races







Less than high school diploma



High school grad/GED



Some college/AA degree



College/post-degree graduates



Employment in past 12 months

Total employed



Employed 35+ hours



Employed less than 35 hours



Not employed



Median income in past 12 months



Marital status

Ever been married



Currently married



Source: Women’s Legacy Fund’s “What Do Women Need? Issues Impacting Women and Girls in San Luis Obispo County” study