Wage gap emphasizes educational gap for Utah women

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 7:08 p.m. MDT

In Utah, the wage gap between genders reinforces the impact of the education gap between the sexes, experts said.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's wage gap between men and women — the third biggest in the country — is about more than just money. Experts say the disparity stems from women's lack of education and training in professions that earn higher wages.

The typical woman in Utah working full time, year-round is paid 69 cents to every dollar their male counterpart makes — eight cents wider than the national average, according to analysis of census data by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C.

In Utah, the wage gap reinforces the impact of the education gap between the sexes, said experts. And organizations around Utah, from college campus associations to high school outreach programs, are trying to close the gaps by helping women complete degrees and know more about options for study.

The state has by far the largest college dropout rate gap between men and women in the country at 6 percent, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. New Jersey, with the next highest, has a gap of only 2.7 percent.

Women also major at a lower rate in high-paying STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields than men. 

“This is true in the whole country, but this is especially true in Utah,” said Dr. Susan R. Madsen, project director of Utah Women and Education Project at Utah Valley University.

Only 28.8 percent of students studying business management and administration are women, compared to 49.5 percent nationally, and women enrollment in biological and life science is 19.5 percent below the national average, according to a brief by the Utah Women and Education Project.

The brief noted that Utah ranks high in the percentage of women in low-paying education programs.

Dropping out of college and choosing lower paying careers contribute to women making less than men, said Madsen.

“Campuses want to join together to change perceptions (for women). They are all seeing more women not looking at the options available to them and being stuck a little bit in the past. We don’t have all the solutions but the discussions have started,” said Madsen.

The wage gap has a lot to do with particular occupations men and women choose, explained Emily Martin, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center. For example, Wyoming has the largest wage gap in the country — five cents more than Utah — which Martin thinks is somewhat explained by the great deal of oil, gas, and mining work that men gravitate to.

However, analyses that control for factors such has education and occupation still show consistent wage gaps, suggestive of discrimination, said Martin.

Stagnation of women’s wages at the national level is also a result of the poor job market, explained Thomas Maloney, an economist at the University of Utah.

While mentorship programs may help women into male-dominated fields, Maloney stressed a strong labor market is important to close the wage gap.

“A strong labor market helps to break down barriers and makes people question tradition,” said Maloney.

Women in Utah get married and have children at a young age relative to the rest of the country, which may change college plans, explained Pam Perlich, a senior researcher and demographer at the Economist Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“Women will often end up working whether they plan on it or not. They need to be prepared to face that. We need a college-going culture,” said Perlich.

Programs exist aimed at helping Utah females prepare for higher paying careers.

Every summer there is a Hi-GEAR (Girls Engineering Abilities Realized) camp to introduce high school girls to areas of engineering and computer science.

The ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics at the University of Utah offers women opportunities in science and mathematics such as individualized instruction and lab experience with professors.

E-mail: jhigginbottom@desnews.com

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