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It was painful to see Miss Utah bobbling her answer to a question: What does it say about society that 40 percent of women who are primary earners in a household make much less money than men do?

I'll take a crack at it: Women are consistently undervalued. They're seen as not as smart as men, not as ambitious, not as worthy. They don't fully understand business, politics, government, military, industry, science.

That's all nonsense, but it's pernicious nonsense.

Perhaps most important, far too many employers pay women less because they can get away with it. As Miss Utah Marissa Powell said, "men are seen as the leaders." Well, the leaders have blown it.

In Utah, there are cultural aspects that influence how employers look at women. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the predominant faith, has an all-male hierarchy from the president to local bishops. Only men can be Catholic priests. Many other religions have women in leadership roles, but their numbers pale in comparison to those two religious traditions.

Long-held beliefs about a man's place versus a woman's mold our expectations of each, and not for the good.

Here, it's undeniable that women make less money. The American Association of University Women reported this year that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Utah men earned an average of $47,573 while Utah women earned $32,843 — an earnings ratio of 69 percent.

Jennifer Coombs is an assistant professor in the University of Utah's physician-assistant program. She notes that female physician assistants earn a median of $85,000 compared to $96,000 for male PAs.

"Women," she says, "are paid for their performance. Men are paid for their potential. If a woman asks for a raise, then it's 'ooh, wow, she's kind of pushy.' "

Look at Utah government. Utah's only female governor, Olene Walker, succeeded Mike Leavitt when he went to Washington, D.C.

Walker was a force for education in particular but was knocked out of the gubernatorial race in the 2004 Republican State Convention.

At present, there are no women in statewide elected positions. Only 17 of the 104 members of the Utah Legislature are women. Since Utah won statehood in 1896, only three of its women — Reva Beck Bosone, Karen Shepherd and Enid Greene Waldholtz — have served in the U.S. Congress.

And, as The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting, women occupy only 7.4 percent of board seats for the publicly traded companies on the Bloomberg Utah Index.

None of this is intended to denigrate women or men who choose to work fewer hours as they take care of themselves and/or their families. Everyone has the right to make the best choices for themselves. But the idea that women don't deserve the same compensation for the same work must be eradicated — perhaps through passage of the federal Paycheck Fairness Act.

Maybe all those big shots who won't pay qualified woman as much as equally qualified men ought to look at their wives and daughters. Do they really want them to be considered less than worthy of an equal wage?

I didn't think so.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.