Why does Utah rank so low for women's equality?

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 6:00 a.m. MDT

In a recent study by personal finance research website Wallet Hub, Utah was ranked as the second worst state in the country for economic equality among the sexes.

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Utah was ranked as the second worst state in the country for economic equality among the sexes in a recent study by personal finance research website Wallet Hub.

According to the survey, the only state that performed worse on the various indicators used to determine economic equality was Wyoming.

Ten different indicators were used to gauge equality in this sense, everything from median pay to life expectancy were considered for the metric.

"It doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide," Wallet Hub's Richie Bernardo wrote in the study's introduction. "By highlighting the most and least gender-egalitarian states, we hope to accomplish three goals: help women find the best career opportunities, empower them to keep fighting for their rights and encourage states to learn from one another."

So what led to Utah's low score? Executive pay and political representation stand out principally as areas where Utah desperately needs to improve, at least according to Wallet Hub. According to its research, the gap in pay between male and female executives in Utah is the worst in the country, and legislative representation isn't far behind.

Earlier this year, The Pew Charitable Trusts also released a report indicating that the gender wage gap can vary greatly from state to state. According to Pew, local "job structure" has a large effect on gender pay. For instance, if the state's economy is driven by an industry that historically attracts fewer female workers (Wyoming's cattle and mining industries are two examples Pew uses to illustrate this point) that can have a major impact on pay disparity.

Industrial factors such as this certainly apply to Utah, where the largest industries closely reflect those of Wyoming. Mining, manufacturing and agriculture are all fields largely dominated by men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they make up a significant portion of the Utah workforce.

However, many other industries that thrive in Utah, such as finance and insurance, have strong female representation (women make up 57.6 percent of the finance and insurance industry, according to the BLS). The finance industry in Utah employs roughly four times that of the mining industry (but just under half what the manufacturing industry employs). In other words, "industrial factors" can only account for so much when it comes to disparity.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research, an organization cited in Pew's research, also believes that "women have made great strides in Utah’s workforce in recent decades," but laments the fact that women with a graduate degree appear to make only 70 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

They point to one specific area, also highlighted by Wallet Hub, as a contributor beyond industrial factors: The lack of women in elected office. According to the IWPR, women hold five of 29 seats in the Utah Senate and 12 of 75 seats in the House of Representatives. That puts Utah at 45th out of the 50 states for female representation in the local legislature.

According to Wallet Hub, this lack of political representation has kept women in Utah from having the "voice" needed to "achieve full social and economic equality in the near future."

See the list of the 25 worst states for gender equality according to Wallet Hub.

JJ Feinauer is a Web producer for Moneywise and Opinion on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.

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