This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The low graduation rate of women from Utah universities is already an established fact, and one that leaders like Matthew and Paige Holland of Utah Valley University have actively addressed. However, a massive longitudinal study recently released by researchers at Stanford, Brown and Harvard sheds a new light on the role secondary education plays for women here in Utah.
The study analyzes the income profiles of 35-year-old graduates from every college in the country. Of the 2013 colleges included, income disparity between male and female graduates is highest among the colleges of Utah. That's right. Of every single college in the United States, Brigham Young University-Provo is dead last in the proportion of male median salary to female median salary. In fact, while the median salary for male BYU grads is $72,000 a year, the median salary for female BYU grads is a mere $800.
Other Utah schools don't fare much better. Utah schools (and Brigham Young University-Idaho) make up half of the lowest 14 schools on the list in this regard. The University of Utah is outside of this primary group, with men making $57,800 a year and women making $23,900 a year, but it is still the lowest 100.
The only Utah school to buck the trend is Westminster College, which ranks in the 62nd percentile of all schools when it comes to this particular metric.
This dramatic and indisputable profile of Utah's female graduates isn't bad news to everyone. To be sure, the study is a snapshot of men and women at exactly the time when women are most likely to be devoting more time to children. The study is not measuring the capabilities or earning potential of female graduates; it's simply a slice of time that may demonstrate clearly to some that our most educated women are dedicating more time to caring at age 35, instead of competing, than their peers around the country. Other studies have shown the higher mobility rates of Utahns in general, and it is very possible that being at the bottom of the pack in this particular metric is the very thing that puts us at the top of the pack in others.
However, homemaking and childcare responsibilities at age 35 fall disproportionately on women throughout the country, and yet the gender wage gap for Utah and Mormon-affiliated universities is still among the highest. So these results still raise significant concerns that search far beyond the pat explanation that our women are home with children and all is as it should be. For example:
• When women have almost no ($800 annual median) earning mechanism at age 35, what is the likelihood of their being able to activate that earning mechanism later in life when family care demands diminish? Research shows the chances are slim or require significant investment such as returning to school.
• Utah schools are overwhelmingly pre-professional in their focus. What does this say about their ability to prepare all of their graduates for the working world?
• How can we make sure this data doesn't become a bludgeon for those who suggest these schools shouldn't be in the business of educating women because they don't "use" that education anyway? Those people exist.
• 73 percent of Utah women with children between the ages of 6-17 are working, only 4 percentage points below the national average. Our women are working. Shouldn't we be concerned that this and many other studies demonstrate they disproportionately occupy the lowest paying industries?
• Does the Mormon emphasis on staying home with children result in women sacrificing any ambition or desire for a fulfilling career, despite life being long and opportunity vast beyond motherhood?
• When our women seek for flexibility in the face of family care needs, are they demanding their full worth? Many flexible jobs still pay more than $800 a year.
• Mormon women are encouraged to get a thorough education. But they have some of the fewest role models in the country in how to use that education to create fulfilling careers of social value. Don't these numbers confirm conflicting messages that education is good but high social value contributions are bad?
This study offers an opportunity to responsibly evaluate the consequences of our culture. While our distinctiveness has its strengths, it also has concerning ripples that should be of addressed honestly.
Neylan McBaine is the CEO of the Seneca Council, a gender workplace consultancy, and a founder of Better Days 2020, a celebration of Utah's suffrage history.