OPINION — If you are a woman who wants to bake casseroles, get married at a young age and start producing babies, then Utah’s the place for you.
However, if you want to earn a serious, post-graduate degree and become a professional woman with a well-paying career, well, it might be a good idea to move to Hawaii or New York, the top two states for gender equality.
A recent survey of the gender gap conducted by WalletHub, an economic and financial analysis company, ranked Utah as dead last.
The numbers are good and in no way can be thought of as tilting the scales. The organization studied data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Women’s Law Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Educational Statistics and the Center for American Women and Politics.
The study was put together in advance of Women’s Equality Day, which is Wednesday, and it illustrates just how out of touch Utah is with the rest of the nation. The results are based on three factors: workplace environment, education and political empowerment. Surprisingly, Utah’s highest ranking came in the area of political empowerment, where the state ranks 36th. The state’s educational ranking and workplace environment rankings anchor Utah to the bottom of the gender gap listings.
The educational ranking was based on the number of women earning college degrees and test results of women in the 25 to 64 age group.
The workplace environment number took into account salaries, the number of female executives in the workplace, average hours worked per week among full-time staff, number of minimum-wage workers, the unemployment rate and entrepreneurship in the state. Utah dipped tremendously in this category across the board but particularly in the wage gap, which shows women here earning only 70 percent of what men doing the same work earn. This is predictable in a state that is highly patriarchal, but nonetheless unconscionable.
The political clout was based on numbers of women in the elected positions at the municipal, state and federal levels.
Some of this disparity, of course, is a result of corporate America’s longstanding disparity in wages between men and women. Some is a result of the nation’s longstanding misogynistic political attitudes. You can see a pattern emerge by studying the bottom of the WalletHub list, which is mostly comprised of conservative, Republican states.
Most of this, however, is culturally self-induced.
The average Utah woman is married at 24, three years younger than the national average, then goes out and immediately starts raising children and, as a result, the state has the highest birthrate in the nation. Although a lot of lip service is given to education, less than 50 percent of the women who enroll in a Utah college or university graduate, and only 8 percent of Utah women between the ages of 25 and 64 have earned a master’s, doctoral or professional degree. That’s a full third less than the national number, according to a study published in The Economist magazine.
For years, the joke was that the only reason Utah girls attended college was to find a husband.
The joke, however, seems to be on us as numbers reflect there is more truth to that line than humor,, and the sting of the state’s educational numbers for women make it no laughing matter.
There is also the religion factor.
Three years ago the rules changed, allowing younger men and women to go on missions for the LDS church. This further imperils education in the Beehive State where the choice between salvation and schooling will boil down to a matter of dollars and cents for many. Previous to the change in missionary age requirements, young men would have about two years between high school graduation and going on a mission, while the young women had about four years. Some elected education to fill the gap.
Now, the numbers among young men remain about the same, while the number of young women who left college to go on missions, or neglect enrolling altogether, has grown.
Whether these young women return to school when they complete their missions remains to be seen.
The fact is, this is a bit more complex than a simple change in the rules of when a young man or woman can become a missionary.
It relates to how women are viewed in general, and this includes how they are raised and, more importantly, how they view themselves.
If they are raised to believe their only function is to marry and reproduce, tend a house and grow into a blissed-out soccer mom, there will be little incentive to pursue a college degree, which lessens us all.
Look, being a mom and housewife is hard work, it is honorable, but it does not mean a woman should forego her education or ignore her dreams and allow them to go unfulfilled.
We also don’t need to perpetuate the continuance of the chronically dependent woman who isn’t strong enough, educated enough or is too reliant to make it on her own.
We need to change the role models for these young women from the glitzy showbiz celebrities to the hardworking women who have broken through that glass ceiling and achieved success in business, education, medicine and so many other fields.
We need to build their self-esteem and let them understand that there is nothing wrong with putting off marriage and family until they are ready and not to give in to the pressures of a culture that propels them into responsibilities that rob them of their youth.
And, we need to drop the attitudes that have kept women in an inferior position when it comes to jobs, salaries, career decisions.
In other words, we need to offer some real equality.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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