Here are a few more (perhaps surprising) facts that bolster the case for better workforce preparation for our young women—particularly in Utah.
- Utah women participate in the labor force at a higher rate than the national average. (This has been true for more than 30 years!)
- The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that half of all new marriages will end in divorce.
- Utah has a higher divorce rate than the national average.
- Most Utah women who work are married.
- Most Utah women who work have children.
- Despite Utah’s larger-than-average families, three-fourths of Utah women with school-age children work outside the home.
- The average Utah working woman spent 33 hours a week on the job.
- In 2010, almost 40 percent of Utah’s female-headed households with children lived in poverty.
- In a recession, men are more likely to be unemployed than are women.
- Utah shows the third-largest male/female wage gap in the nation.
- Utah shows the largest (by far) bachelor’s-degree-attainment gap of any state in the nation.
Let’s talk about those last two bullet points. In Utah, we like to tout our well-educated workforce. Unfortunately, Utah is losing ground compared to the nation.
I first noticed this trend a few decades ago. When I researched what was happening, it became apparent that Utah women were falling behind U.S. women in obtaining college degrees. On the other hand, Utah men continued to maintain their educational edge.
When I investigated further, I discovered that Utah had the largest college-education gap between men and women of any state in the nation. Just what is a bachelor’s-degree-attainment gap? It is merely the percentage point difference between the share of men with at least a bachelor’s degree and the share of women with at least a bachelor’s degree. As you can see from the graphic, in more than one-third of states, women lead men in bachelor’s degree attainment. However, in Utah, men stand head and shoulders above women in earning at least a bachelor’s degree. Utah women are just not keeping up when it comes to higher education. And it shows in our wages.
All good labor economists know that there is a very, very strong statistical correlation between educational attainment and earnings. Statistically, workers with the most education earn the highest wages; those with the least education earn the lowest wages. (Incidentally, unemployment rates also track educational levels—the higher the education, the lower the unemployment rate.) With this relationship between education and earnings, it’s hardly surprising that the state with the largest male/female college-education gap also shows the third largest male/female wage gap.
With Utahns' strong belief in education, why are Utah women lagging behind? Of course, there is a cultural component. In general, women are family oriented and LDS women perhaps even more so. That’s certainly a “good thing.” This family focus brings many great and wonderful things to society.
However, when it diverts a woman’s attention from appropriate workforce preparation, it may also leave her financially unprotected when spouses leave, die, or become unemployed. Plus, most married women in Utah work right along with their spouses. Given the likelihood that most young women will work, shouldn’t we encourage prepare them for careers that are interesting, flexible and high-paying? It only makes sense.