Utah women should know how to manage their own finances, report says

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) 2019 file photo a tip box is filled with U.S. currency in New York. Utah women need to improve their financial literacy, according to a new report from the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

Utah women, like women across the country, need to be more prepared to handle their own finances, according to a new report.

“We’ve got this cradle-to-grave issue in terms of women’s financial disempowerment,” said Robbyn Scribner, one of the authors of the report released last week from the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

It’s really within the last half century that U.S. women have been able to have more control of their money, according to the report. “Overt pay discrimination was legal until 1963, and women could not access credit on their own until 1974.”

And as more women enter the labor force and the marriage rate decreases, “this means that now, more than ever before, Utah women need to be financially literate and prepared to be financially independent,” the report states.

But research shows that “most adults have major gaps in their financial literacy.” Just 30% of women show proficiency, compared to 35% of men worldwide, according to the report.

The conversation needs to start early, with parents talking to their children, said Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah Valley University. All high school graduates in the state are required to take a financial literacy course, and a 2018 audit found that male students “scored consistently better” than female students. “Over a three-year period, 45% of boys scored ‘highly proficient’ versus 37% of girls,” the report states.

Yet female teenagers in Utah, ages 16 to 19, “are much more likely than women the same age nationally to be in the labor force,” according to the report, with 51% of Utah teens compared to 38% in the U.S.

Parents of all-boy families (50%) are more likely to save money for college, compared to families who had all girls (39%), according to a 2017 national study. And while U.S. women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, “they hold an outsized portion of the nation’s total outstanding student debt — almost two-thirds,” the report states.

Women then tend to enter lower-paying jobs and take breaks in their careers to have children and care for family members, which can affect their financial situations. And Utah has the the highest rate of women working part time, at nearly 38%.

“These factors, along with others, combine to leave Utah women facing one of the largest gender wage gaps in the nation, and despite persistent attitudes that the pay gap is a myth or merely a result of women’s choices, the reality is much more complex, and serious efforts by all stakeholders will be necessary for Utahns to mitigate this major deterrent to women’s financial wellbeing,” the report said.

Women generally live longer than men, so “their retirement savings need to last longer," according to the report. But “many women keep the majority of their savings in cash (as much as 70%), which lacks the potential to grow as much as other types of investments (stocks) can, and this ‘gender investment gap’ can leave women with a shortfall of funds to support their longer lives.”

“People tell me stories all the time about a spouse suddenly dies and the wife is not prepared. … And it’s a real concern,” Madsen said.

In Utah, nearly half of women over the age of 65 are either single “or married with a spouse absent.” And 8.2% of Utah women in the same age range live below the poverty level, compared to 3.9% of men, according to the report.

“There’s not a time in life where a woman doesn’t need to know” how to handle her money, Madsen said. “Both men and women need to be financially literate and really, really smart with their finances."

Scribner said she knows finance is “not always a sexy topic,” but “we have to get more comfortable talking about it.”

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.