Utah’s fourth-worst-in-the-nation wage gap between what men and women earn hurts both individual families and the state’s economy. While legislators and educators focus on helping more Utahns get college degrees, they should pay particular attention to females in the Beehive State.
A new study shows that Utah women who work full time made, on average, 70 cents for every dollar earned by Utah men. That is not only the fourth widest wage gap in the country, it is also close to 8 cents per dollar worse than the national average, according to new estimates in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
The typical full-time working woman in Utah makes $34,062 a year, $14,478 less annually than the typical man. The Utah gap is 44 percent higher than the national gap of $10,061. That translates into a lot of lost earning power; lower incomes, especially for families headed by women; and more women and children in poverty.
The reasons are easy to pinpoint. First is the education gap. Utah has the largest gap of any state, by far, in the percentage of women who earn bachelor’s degrees, compared to the percentage of men with college degrees. And higher education translates into higher salaries.
"In Utah, we like to talk about how we’re so well-educated compared to the United States. That’s true, but it’s the men who are well-educated. Women are a little bit behind," Lecia Langston, senior economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, rightly points out.
And Utah culture — the likely culprit is the LDS Church emphasis on women marrying and having children early in life — encourages Utah women to drop out of college or, if they do graduate, to choose low-paid professions like teaching that let them focus on their families.
While the study shows some of the disparity is due to women earning less than men for the same job, that cultural lack of emphasis on higher education and discouragement to pursue careers in science, engineering, technology and math put many women on a track to lower incomes.
Utah women, like all women, face a high probability that they will, at some time, be the primary breadwinner for their family. Death, divorce, sickness or lifelong single status put a woman in the workforce even though she has chosen to be a homemaker.
Educators, parents and counselors need to recognize the disservice done to Utah women by discouraging them from pursuing high-paying jobs. If Utah is to meet Gov. Gary Herbert’s goal of 66 percent of Utahns with degrees or certificates by 2020, the focus must shift to young women.
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