Is Utah the Worst State for Women’s Equality? Here’s what the numbers show.

Editor’s Note: This article is one of a series examining the status of women in Utah. Read the editorial explaining the project.

Utah is regularly called the worst state for women’s equality, and this ranking is often due to these factors in the lives of the women who live here:

  • They earn less because of the gender pay gap.

  • They have less education, depending on the number of women who graduate with a bachelor’s degree or above.

  • They are less represented, given the number of women sitting in the state legislature.

  • They lead less often, depending on the number of women in managerial and professional positions.

Whenever state-by-state comparisons of women across the country are released, those four categories are generally key to ranking, according to Susan Madsen, founder and director of Utah State University. Utah Women and Leadership Project.

The Salt Lake Tribune has now dug those numbers back as many years as the data was available, to see how persistent these trends have been – and if they are changing over time.

Checking the Facts: The Gender Wage Gap in Utah

The Beehive State has experienced one of the largest gender pay gaps in the country for more than three decades.

Utah’s gap has narrowed over the years, but it has remained one of the largest since at least 1989, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“Everyone struggles with the wage gap, but in Utah we struggle more,” Madsen said.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There are different ways to measure the gap, but you want to “get as close as possible to apples to apples” when you compare the wages of men and women, according to Lecia Langston, senior economist in the Department of Human Resources. artwork from Utah who studied Utah. women in the economy for decades.

The way to do that, Langston said, is to look at the median annual earnings of full-time, full-year workers.

“The more women have in the workforce like men, the same occupations, the same education, the same time in the workforce… the wage gap is getting closer and closer,” Langston said. However, “no one has ever really seen it disappear completely,” indicating “some kind of discrimination in the labor market,” she said.

It is difficult to trace the gender wage gap beyond the past few decades because the data is not as reliable and it has not been studied as it is today, Langston said.

Yet, it has been a concern in Utah for a long time. A 1964 report from the Governor’s Committee on the Status of Women in Utah pointed out that women here earn less than men compared to women in the United States or any other western state.

Fact Check: Women in the Utah Legislature

With the exception of a brief period in the early 2000s, Utah has ranked in the bottom half of U.S. states since 1977 for its female representation in the state legislature, according to Rutgers Center for American Women in Politics.

From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, no woman served in the state Senate.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Despite occasional declines, this is a trend that improves over time. In recent years, more women have served in the Utah Legislature than ever before. Yet even at their highest levels, they make up a quarter of all state legislators.

Currently, 25 women sit in the state legislature, which represents 24% of the 104 members. In 2020, there were 27 female state legislators – a record.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Fact Check: Utah Women Get Graduates

The women of the Beehive State had an educational advantage, but they have lost it in recent decades.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

From 1940 to 1980, a higher percentage of Utah women earned at least a bachelor’s degree than American women, according to a 2006 Utah Foundation report.

Although women in Utah continued to earn more degrees, they lagged behind American women in 1990 and 2000, according to the report.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

More recently, the percentage of women and men who earn a bachelor’s degree is about the same in Utah, “holding about 20% for each since 2010,” according to a 2018 report by the Commission on Women in the Economy.

In 2016, men and women in Utah were more successful in obtaining a bachelor’s degree than American men and women. But “a greater percentage of Utah women fall into the ‘a little college but no degree’ and ‘associate degree’ categories, while Utah men lead all groups with a degree. graduate degree, ”the report says.

Looking at adults 18 and older who have at least a bachelor’s degree, Utah women lagged behind Utah men, American women, and American men from 2001 to 2015, the report shows. that “although these differences diminish over time”.

“This measure, and the association between higher education levels and higher wages, greater job flexibility and greater job satisfaction, likely contributes to Utah’s poor performance in national comparisons. equality and opportunities for women “, according to the report.

Fact Check: Utah Women in Top Positions

More Utah women have held managerial and professional positions than in previous years, but they have lagged behind American women since at least 1995.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

During the three decades from 1950 to 1980, there was only a 2% increase in the number of Utah women employed in managerial positions, according to a 1982 report by the Governor’s Commission on status of women.

This small increase means that “17.4% of people employed as managers are women,” according to the metrics used to compile the report.

So although women in Utah have “not made great strides in leading positions,” the report observes, it adds that this percentage puts Utah 0.6% above the rate. national.

“But when you consider that over 50% of women are employed, it is disappointing that the percentage is so low,” the authors write.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

In 1994, however, women in Utah were doing well compared to the rest of the country, with 31.1% of employed women in the state in leadership positions. This year, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranked the Beehive State 13th in the nation.

In 2019, that percentage had continued to increase, but not as fast as in other states. With 42% of Utah women aged 16 and over in managerial and professional positions, the The institute placed Utah 35th among the 50 states and DC Nevada had the lowest at 33.6%, while DC got the top spot with 69.8%. Women nationwide were 44%.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

So what’s the next step for women in Utah?

Women in Utah have improved in all of these categories. There are more women legislators. The gender pay gap is narrowing. The number of women in managerial and professional positions is increasing. And they earn more degrees.

Yet while there have been times when women in Utah have outperformed their peers in other states, women in Beehive state have fallen behind again in recent years.

This is true even with close neighbors. In an example of Utah’s slower pace, the most women who have ever served in the state legislature at any given time is 27, and that was in 2020.

Idaho reached that number more than 30 years ago, in 1987, according to the Center for American Women in Politics. Last year, 33 women served in the Idaho legislature.

All of these rankings and data show where women in Utah are, said Liz Owens, CEO of YWCA Utah. What comes next, she said, is wondering why are we constantly in this place? And are we happy to be there, or do we want to see change?

“What are the nuances, context and underlying issues? Owens said.

The Utahns must “start unpacking” all of this information “and understand what it means for us and for us as a state,” she said.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America member of the body and writes on the status of women in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps her continue to write stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today.


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