Research Questions

  1. What are the socioeconomic impacts of increasing investment in women's health research for AD/ADRD, CAD, and 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, with a focus on the following three disease areas: brain health, immune and autoimmune disease, and cardiovascular disease. Using microsimulation analyses, the research team studied the societal cost impact of increasing research funding in three diseases that present a large disease burden for women: Alzheimer's disease and Alzheimer's disease–related dementias (AD/ADRD), coronary artery disease (CAD), and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The results establish the potential for investment in women's health research to realize gains beyond additional general research investment and point the way to a concrete, actionable research and funding agenda.

Key Findings

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

  • The return on investment is higher for most scenarios in which research funding impact is assumed to be higher for women than men. Assuming an equal impact of research on women and men generally results in lower returns.
  • Research investment yields benefits for all people, but the specific emphasis on women’s health can result in downstream socioeconomic benefits that improve on general research.

Large societal gains may be possible by increasing investment in women's health research

  • The aggregate cost savings to society are $932 million for AD/ADRD, $1.9 billion for CAD, and $10.5 billion for RA, reflecting the different impact of each disease for the full population.
  • Savings include increased life years, reduced years with disease, fewer years of functional dependence, and reductions in disruptions to work productivity.

Recommendations

  • Increase research funding directed at women's health. The potential gains from women-focused research are substantial, given the limitations in knowledge about disease development and impacts for women relative to men.
  • Pursue research on the biology of disease in women, including early identification, and identify barriers to diagnosis in women.
  • Expand research agendas to address the complicated relationships between disease and work productivity in women. Impacts include lost productivity for those with the disease and for informal caregivers, the majority of whom are women.
  • Raise awareness of the potential value of investment in women's health research. The ways in which women's health research is disadvantaged relative to general research are multifaceted, with major implications for disease burdens.

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.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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