The Atlantic Cities, currently one of my favorite sites, has, over the last several days, run a series looking into the best states for working women (both generally and in the “creative class”). What leaped out at me: Utah’s a pretty bad place to be a working woman.
A couple caveats before I go any further: first, “Utah” and “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” are not coterminous by any means. I’ve spent a lot of energy arguing, for example, that funeral potatoes are a Utah dish, not a Mormon dish.[fn1] About 60% of Utah’s population is Mormon; although the Church seems to have significantly influenced Utah culture, it cannot be the only influence. Still, people equate “Utah” and “Mormon,” so an analysis of Utah will generally at least imply Mormon as well.
Second, I’m not trying to flame the infamous Mommy Wars. I’m not arguing that it’s better for mothers to stay home with their children, or that it’s better for them to work outside the home. I suspect that the right answer varies from family to family and from woman to woman in any event; still, the data I’m referring to talks about women employed outside of their homes, so that’s what I’m going with. Which is to say, please, if you comment, don’t argue that working women are sinners, or that stay-at-home moms are wasting their lives. Because both arguments are stupid.
Now, on to the articles:
Working Women Generally
This article deals with women in the workforce generally. Some interesting findings: Utah has the lowest percentage of women in the workforce, at 45%. (The highest percentage is in D.C., with 52.6% but, as the article points out, D.C. is an outlier: it’s all urban, rather than a mix of urban and rural like the states. As such, from here on out, I’ll ignore D.C. which <SPOILER ALERT> across basically all of the categories tops the list for working women. Washington, Rhode Island, and Mississippi tie at 50.2% for the states with the largest percentage of women in the workforce.)
Utah also has the fifth-lowest average wages for women, at $24,830. Below Utah are Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Virginia. Maryland has the highest average wages for women, at $42,164.
Utah’s also at the bottom of the list for the percentage of total wages earned by women (which, based on the previous two numbers, makes sense): in Utah, women account for less than 30% of the total wages earned.
Women in the Creative Class
Richard Florida then moves on to what he calls the “creative class.” He lists professions that he includes as creative class professions here, but basically he’s talking about the jobs held by about one-third of the U.S. population that pay significantly better than the average salary and have weathered the recession better.
Before we get to Utah’s performance, I want to note that, even in this creative class (where they make up more than half the workforce), women get the short end of the economic stick. Creative class men earn, on average, about $82,000, while creative class women earn just over $48,000.[fn2]
So how do Utah creative class women do in comparison with the rest of the country? In terms of percentage of the creative class, Mississippi tops the list: 58.9% of the creative class are women. Utah is at the bottom, with 45.7% (and, in fact, is the only state in which women make up less than 50% of the creative class workers).
And, as with women in general, Utah creative class women have the fifth lowest average salary, at $35,872. This time, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Idaho come in lower. By way of comparison (again, excluding D.C.), creative class women in New Mexico top the list, with $59,476.
And percentage of creative class wages? Again, Utah is the only state where the percentage is below 30%.
Using Florida’s criteria, Utah ranks last in the nation for creative class women; for women in general, though, it ranks 47th (coming in ahead of Wyoming, Idaho, and Virginia).[fn3]
What to make of this? I’m not entirely sure. I’m not as concerned about Utah women’s lower participation in the labor market; at least, I’m not convinced that we should try to push them into the formal labor market (although maybe we should discourage them less from entering it: in recent years, general authorities seem to have become less opposed to women’s working,[fn4] and it may be good for us, as a body of Saints, to follow their lead).
I think the wage disparity is bad, though. It isn’t just a Utah thing, of course, but it seems significant in Utah (that is, women make up about 45% of both the general workforce and the creative class workforce, but only earn something less than 30% of the income). Whatever we think about women in the workforce (and again, remember, please don’t rehash stale Mommy War arguments), we don’t have any religious incentive for paying women less than men. At the very least, I think this means we should be working to determine where this disparity comes from and, to the extent possible, fixing it.
[fn1] That’s not, of course, to make any normative judgment about the worth of funeral potatoes. It’s just to say, they weren’t part of my California heritage–the first time I ever ate them was post-law school in New York.
[fn2] I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for these wage disparities, from the idea that women earn lower wages because they leave the workforce for some period of time to have children, to women earn lower wages because they take different types of jobs than men, to women earn lower wages because of discrimination. I suspect that all play parts, and I suspect that none fully capture the causes of these wage disparities.
[fn3] Note that I realize that just wage numbers don’t account for everything: it’s possible that in Utah, you make less money, period. And Richard Florida is aware of that, too: he assigns a location premium to each location, etc. I’ve summarized numbers that I found interesting, but I haven’t given you his full run-down. For that, it really is worth clicking over to his articles; among other things, they have colored maps, and it was really the yellow Utah in a sea of orange and red in so many of the maps that first grabbed my attention.
[fn4] Before you find the Conference talk that totally shoots me down, let me say this: I have no doubt that there are such statements, even made recently. I’m talking about a more holistic impression that I get. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think I am.