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Research Questions

  1. What are the socioeconomic impacts of increasing investment in women's health research for RA?
  2. What amount of investment can yield societal gains, and how can this information inform research funders, policymakers, and business leaders in addressing return on investment for research funding?

Women's health has suffered from insufficient research addressing women. The research community has not widely embraced the value of this research, and the impact of limited knowledge about women's health relative to men's is far-reaching. Without information on the potential return on investment for women's health research, research funders, policymakers, and business leaders lack a basis for altering research investments to improve knowledge of women's health.

As part of an initiative of the Women's Health Access Matters (WHAM) nonprofit foundation, RAND Corporation researchers examined the impact of increasing funding for women's health research on rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA was chosen partly because of its higher prevalence in women than men, with some symptom profiles differing by sex. In this report, the authors present the results of microsimulation models used to explore the potential for enhanced investment in women's health research, in terms of the economic well-being of women and for the U.S. population.

Key Findings

Investing in women's health research on RA yields benefits beyond investing in general research

  • The return on investment is higher for scenarios in which research funding has three times the impact on women's health outcomes than on men's health outcomes. Assuming an equal impact of research on women and men results in lower returns.

Large returns result from very small health improvements

  • Assuming 0.1 percent or less total health improvement from reduced age incidence of RA and reduced disease severity, more than 70,000 years with RA can be saved over 30 years in the United States, with substantial gains in health-related quality of life.
  • The return on investment is 174,000 percent for doubled investment in women's health research with an assumption of only 0.1 percent improvement in health outcomes.


  • Increase research funding directed at women's health within RA. The potential gains from women-focused research are substantial, given the limitations in knowledge about women and RA relative to information about men and RA.
  • Pursue research on the biology of RA in women, including early identification, and identify barriers to diagnosis in women.
  • Expand research agendas to address relationships between RA and work productivity impacts. The ways in which RA limits work productivity could be a useful lens through which to evaluate current and potential future treatment effectiveness.
  • Raise awareness of the potential value of investment in women's health research in RA. Identify such obstacles as career interruption from caregiving burden for women and develop strategies to overcome these and systemic factors, such as implicit and explicit bias against women in health research.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Women's Health Access Matters and conducted by the Social and Behavioral Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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