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Why is Utah's gender wage gap so big? Discrimination, study says

Published October 23, 2015 1:53 pm

Study • Utah's women also are earning fewer degrees — relative to men — than they did a generation ago.
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Utah's working women are paid less than men simply because they are women, a new study has found.

And they also are less likely to graduate from college — a divide that has actually widened over the course of a generation, breaking from the national trend.

A report released Thursday by Voices for Utah Children found that the state has the nation's fourth-worst wage gap, and it's driven mostly by a negative bias toward female employees.



"People want to think that we've moved beyond that," said Matthew Weinstein, the group's state priorities partnership director. But discrimination is to blame for 73 percent of Utah's gap, found University of Utah researchers working with the 30-year-old child-advocacy nonprofit.

A lower rate of college degrees among women also is a key player, followed by other factors such as chosen industries.

The new analysis from the organization follows up on a January report that showed it could take a lifetime — 72 years, to be exact — for Utah's pay gap to close.

The effect of different treatment for women is similar nationally. But in Utah, the pay gap is even bigger because women are less educated and less likely to have high-paying jobs than they are in other states, said Curtis Miller, a mathematics master's student at the U. who led the study.

"Basically, we've seen improvements in discrimination over time," Miller said, "but a decline in how women shape up compared to men" in terms of education.

American women now earn degrees at a higher rate than men, but Utah has gone in the opposite direction, Miller's analysis shows.

A five-year snapshot of data from 1992 to 1997 shows Utah men and women were nearly on par when it came to having at least a bachelor's degree. The difference was less than a percent, with 24 percent of Utah men having the four year degree, compared to 23.4 percent of women.

Boys who were babies back then are now in their 20s and more likely to graduate than their sisters. About 33 percent of men had a four-year degree as of 2014, Miller found. Just under 30 percent of women did.

"The importance of this research is that it's getting to the bottom of the problem," said Gunseli Berik, a U. researcher who studies gender and the workforce but was not involved in the Voices for Utah Children study.

Women are more likely to work as office assistants and teachers, she said. The most common jobs for men, on the other hand, are in management, sales and construction.

"This has been a persistent problem," Berik said. "If you're tracked into, 'You can be a secretary or you can be a teacher,' then you're destined, as a woman, to be in a lower earning occupation."

A handful of Utah organizations are seeking to address the divide, aiming to get more women in college classrooms, boardrooms and government offices. The Women's Leadership Institute, formed by former state Sen. Patricia Jones and Zions Bank officers, is challenging Utah companies to hire more female executives.

And Real Women Run, started by YWCA Utah and the U., holds trainings for women considering public office.

But more is needed, Weinstein said.

The study's findings, he said, highlight a need for Utah leaders to discourage discrimination, boost low-income tax credits and urge more women to graduate from college and enter high-paying jobs. But they must also better accommodate working women with families by putting more funding into full-day kindergarten and day care, he said.

He hopes the report will spur more employers to reconsider their practices, and encourage more female employees to speak up.

aknox@sltrib.com

@anniebknox

 

 

 

 

 

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