Why is Utah's wage gap so high?

Oct 12, 2021

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Kailey Foster: Research at USU shows that the wage gap here in Utah is amongst the highest in the nation. Joining me today is Dr. Susan Madsen with the Utah Woman and Leadership Project, and one of the authors of the study.

So, I guess my first question would just be, what are some of the findings that came up during your research?

Dr. Susan Madsen: This particular report is an update from 2017, and it's specific to the Utah gender wage gap. What our question really was; have things changed since 2017. On the wage gap, what we know is Utah's one of the worst in the nation.

So nationally, what we found is that in 2017, we reported about 80 cents to the dollar for what a woman makes, versus a man. And generally speaking, now the nation is seeing 16 to 18%. However, what we found is that we are still the same.

KF: So I guess what makes Utah so different from other states?

SM: Generally speaking, when you have states that are really more traditional, and there's been studies on more religious environments, you tend to find men just make more than women.

There's a lot of reasons for that. One is just what we call occupational segregation, where jobs and industries are heavily occupied by one gender. In Utah, even more than the nation, we tend to have women majoring in college and in careers that are really more traditionally for women.

KF: Yeah. And I remember when I was in school being told that the biggest reason for the wage gap was that women just weren't assertive enough to ask for that pay raise. I guess what other factors caused the gap as well?

SM:  Yeah, in terms of the one that, that you've mentioned, what's interesting about that is yes, women negotiate less than men. However, women are taught from the time they're born, that they should not ask for what they need.

There’re many reasons- it's actually a complex topic. And solutions are really multifaceted, that means you just can't do one thing and expect it to work. And so, there's other things like, you know, your choice of majors, but also women have children too.

So, we take career breaks for this or that, but even when women go back to work, and work or whatever- even when you're paying attention to the data, on actual years, and the workforce, majors, all of those things, there’s always a piece that's pure discrimination and bias. And until we, you know, really understand our biases more, unconscious biases. Until we have more public legislation and different things around this, things are just not going to change in the way that we need them to change.