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Editorial: Utah’s gender gap is anti-family

Gender inequality hurts families.

First Published May 03 2014 12:42 pm • Last Updated May 03 2014 12:42 pm

The YWCA and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research have issued a report on the wellbeing of women in Utah, and it’s not a comforting portrait.

Utah has the fifth biggest gender pay gap in the nation, and Utah women are more likely than men to suffer poverty and violence. They’re also less likely to reach the top professional jobs and leadership positions.

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Utah’s unique demographics are a driver. More Utah women marry and leave the workforce to start families earlier than they do in most of the country, so it’s not surprising that men get a head start on building careers that produce more money. 

Much of the state still holds out for that male breadwinner/female homemaker ideal, but the realities raise questions of whether it really is ideal. More often than not, those women still end up getting jobs. In fact, the percentage of Utah women in the workforce is actually above the national average.

So Utah women work more than women in other states, but the pay difference with men is still larger than it is in other states?

The difference is a matter of education and timing. There is a higher percentage of women in other states who delay families until they’ve received more education. That makes them significantly more prepared for finding good jobs when they re-enter the workforce.

Indeed, the YWCA report found that Utah has the largest gap in the nation between men and women with graduate and professional degrees. Nationally, there are more women than men entering medical and law schools, but not in Utah.

Women also are much less likely to hold political office in Utah, and that has a two-pronged effect. First, male-dominated politics tends to push women’s interests down the priority list. Second, the lack of woman role models in politics makes it harder to reverse the situation.

(The Utah Legislature is Exhibit No. 1. Only 17 of 104 legislators are female. One of them, Becky Lockhart, is House Speaker and one of the most powerful leaders in the state. But, alas, she’s leaving office this year, and here’s betting a man replaces her.)

Utah does much to earn its reputation as a family-friendly state, but there is nothing friendly about leaving women behind. In fact, with more single-parent homes headed by women than men, it is anti-family.

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The power to repair the situation is in the hands of Utah girls who soon will be women. Their decisions in early adulthood will do much to determine their eventual success, and it’s up to the rest of us to give them honest guidance. That’s the real ideal.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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