BYU grads No. 1 in gender wage gap

A crowd of BYU graduates head to graduation. Recent reports show that BYU graduates’ gender wage gap is the highest among colleges across the nation. (Universe Archives)

The College Scorecard report by the U.S. Department of Education found BYU graduates’ earnings beat out the national mean. However, BYU also tops the chart for the largest gender wage gap, according to TIME Magazine’s breakdown of the College Scorecard report.

According to the TIME report, men on average earn nearly 30 percent more than women 10 years after entering college. The average income for women nationally is $39,157 compared to $50,033 for men, according to The Catalyst. But BYU men make almost three times more than BYU women 10 years after entering college; the average for BYU women is $29,500 and the average for BYU men is $84,500.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead said although BYU graduates may have the largest gender wage gap, the university “supports all students, both men and women without discrimination, in whatever field they choose.”

“The students make their own career choices after graduation and those greatly affect the statistics of income,” Hollingshead said. “But we encourage our students to be successful and that includes in career and in family.”

Religious affiliation is the main contributing factor to the gender wage gap among graduates at all universities, according to the TIME report. However, the gap widens at colleges with a high Mormon population. BYU sits in the No. 1 spot nationally, and BYU-Idaho follows in a close second.

Although UVU, Utah State, the University of Utah and Weber State do not have an official Mormon affiliation, these colleges also come in at fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh for widest gender wage gap 10 years after entering college.

Consequently, the Beehive State has the fourth largest gender wage gap in the U.S., and the wage in Utah is closing in at the second slowest rate, according to a report conducted by the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children.

“The income gender gap is a very real problem here in Utah,” Director of Voices for Utah Children Matthew Weinstein said. “We found that the wage gap between men and women in Utah is projected to close in 2087, 40 years behind the nation.”

Nationally, women who worked full time in 2014 were typically paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. However, in Utah women are only paid 70 cents for every dollar, according to the Voices of Utah Children report.

A Stanford University study suggests women receive lower compensation because of discrimination, job fields, lack of union status and less work experience and salary negotiation.

Women in Utah — a state whose population is 58 percent Mormon, according to the Pew Research Center — may have reasons of their own.

“Mormons marry younger and have more children than people elsewhere in the country,” said Tim Heaton, co-author of the sociological essay book “Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives.” “When mothers, Mormons are less likely to have full-time employment outside of the home … this puts additional pressure on the husbands to be breadwinners.”

Another reason for income gender inequality in Utah is that a high number of women are willing to give up their education to raise their children, according to Susan Madsen, UVU’s Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics.

Utah universities have an enrollment of 51 percent male and 49 female, but only 30.3 percent of Utah women age 25 to 64 complete a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 32.7 percent of women nationally, according to the Voices of Utah Children report. Meanwhile, 32.5 percent of Utah men age 25 to 64 earned a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 29.5 percent of men nationally.

“LDS doctrine supports women being educated, but some LDS women feel pressure culturally to give up or sacrifice college once they have children,” Madsen said.

These cultural pressures affect Utah’s female graduation rates. Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduation rates, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Another reason for the gap is because of the different degrees Utah men and women choose.

“Women in Utah colleges are much more likely to study things such as education, social work and nursing, while men in Utah get degrees more in business, STEM and medical tracks,” Madsen said. “The degrees women choose just do not pay as much.”

According to Madsen, it is also important to Mormon women to have a flexible work schedule so they can balance work and family.

“I would take a pay cut so that I could go to my daughter’s ballet performance or see her Young Women’s recognition,” said BYU alumna and mother Marilyn Kiene, who is a ballet and piano teacher.

Weinstein and Curtis Miller, an economics student from the University of Utah, authored the Voices for Utah Children’s report about the gender income inequality. In their report, they concluded that only a quarter of the gender wage gap was because of factors such as differences in education and that the majority of the gap was due to discrimination in the workplace.

According to Weinstein, this discrimination is caused by “unconscious bias against women and mothers in the workplace.” Current theory on unconscious bias holds that everyone, even women themselves, may exhibit discriminatory behavior. Weinstein concluded that this bias may even steer women to lower-paying, traditional female employment.

Weinstein and Miller proposed solutions to diminish the gap in their report. These include the promotion of higher education and encouragement of nontraditional fields of study for women, reducing the cost of childcare, raising take-home pay for low-income Utahns and increasing public awareness of the earnings gap.

“If we close the gap, then it will help Utah,” Miller said. “Our research shows that if Utah’s wage gap were no larger than the nation’s, there would be additional $1.6 billion in personal income added to Utah’s economy each year.”

A large part of Miller and Weinstein’s report discussed discrimination against women in the workplace, and they, along with Madsen, believe this is where women could make the most improvements.

“We need to help women understand their choices and their worth,” Madsen said. “Men are four times more likely to negotiate their salary and campaign for leadership positions, so we need to provide women with more leadership development and teach them negotiation.”

Madsen suggested the gender wage gap may be traced back to the upbringing of boys and girls, which he believes needs to be remedied to develop more women leaders.

“Boys in school get in trouble and criticized, which teaches them to stand up for themselves. On the other hand, girls are praised for being quiet and raising their hands,” Madsen said. “Women, globally, just need better practices to teach them to be strong and to be leaders.”

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