Utah often bucks national trends. But one deviation that should be of great concern to parents, educators and legislators in the Beehive State are the statistics on higher education: More men than women earn college degrees, and the gap is widening.
The percentage of Utah men with degrees is 6 points higher. Just as alarming: College completion for both men and women in Utah has fallen behind national rates.
And while the number of women with degrees nationally has surpassed the number of degree-holding men (women earning master's degrees and doctorates now outnumber men getting advanced degrees), the opposite is true in Utah. College enrollment has declined among Utah women since the 1990s, and Utah now ranks 26th in the nation in college completion rates.
There are multiple and interconnected reasons for the decline. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while purporting to support higher education for its women members, nevertheless puts a stronger emphasis on marrying and having children early in life. Those added responsibilities, which commonly fall to women, often mean school is pushed to the background.
The church's recent change in its missionary policy to allow both men and women to enter the mission field at younger ages, and the admonition to take a trip down the aisle soon after returning from an LDS mission, could further lower marriage age among the LDS faithful.
Women of any faith who lack a college degree are at a disadvantage in many ways. They will almost certainly have to support themselves and often their families at some time in their lives Utah has one of the highest percentages of working women. Being undereducated, they cannot qualify for jobs that pay a living wage.
The attitude that women should be prepared only to raise children and manage a home is also reflected in employers' attitudes toward female workers. Women in Utah earn only 69 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the national average is 77 cents to the dollar. Employers exploit women's tendency to live in a stay-at-home dream world where they are encouraged to be passive. They offer women less than men for the same type of work, sometimes giving them a less-prestigious title for the same job, then fail to offer them training or recognize good work by promoting them.
The result is that full-time working women earn an average $31,000 per year, while men get an average $45,000. More women completing college would begin to close that dangerous gap.