Professor discusses myth of choice as a factor in Utah’s gender wage gap

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SALT LAKE CITY -- According to a new study, more women in Utah are living below the poverty line than men.

The findings were released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which gave Utah a C- when it comes to women’s poverty and opportunity.

When compared to other states, Utah ranked 29th through an analysis of women in education, business ownership, poverty and health insurance access. However, one of the biggest factors was the gender wage gap.

“Women earn 78 percent of what men earn, and in Utah that’s 70 percent of what men earn, so, we have a wider gap, and the question is: Why?” said Gunseli Berik, an economics professor at the University of Utah.

Berik addressed the issue at an event hosted by the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Thursday.

During her discussion, she pointed to a variety of factors that contribute to the gap, including education. In Utah, for example, fewer women are completing their college degrees, in comparison to the national average for women.

But Berik said there is one commonly cited factor that is a myth: choice.

“People claim that this is due to women’s choices, occupational choices, educational choices and unwillingness to work long hours and so forth,” explained Berik. “And of course, that is partially true, but these choices are not made in a vacuum.”

Berik argues that the notion women “choose” to have low-paying jobs is not a fair depiction of the issue. She, instead, points to societal norms in Utah that encourage women to leave the workforce, get married and raise families sooner than women in other areas.

“We sort of go along and adapt to our occupational choices, educational choices,” she said.

However, it’s those occupational choices that can exaggerate how wide the gender wage gap is, according to Mark Knold, a senior economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Data shows that high-paying industries, like tech and manufacturing, are heavily dominated by men. In contrast, lower paying industries, like education or nursing, are composed largely of women. As a result, comparing the two shows a large disparity.

“Not all industries pay equally,” Knold said. “And it is hard to go into individual companies and say, ‘I have an accountant and here’s a man, here’s a woman. Are they paid differently or equally?’”

According to the study from IWPR, if the gender wage gap closed, the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half nationally, from 8.1 percent to 3.9 percent.

“I think awareness, clearly, goes a long way,” Berik said.


  • bob

    What they never mention when they talk about the myth of the “wage gap” is how women’s salaries compare to men’s IN THE SAME JOBS.

    If women really did the same jobs cheaper NOBODY would hire men. Ever. I feel like I shouldn’t have to point out this obvious truth.

    If you want a man’s wage, do a man’s job. Lots of women do, quite well, and get paid accordingly. Stop whining that you’re entitled to the money without the effort.

    • David Whittington

      Yo Bob My Boy – For once you almost made a correct comment – but not quite. What exactly is a ‘man’s job’ ? By calling a job a ‘man’s job’ you are simply providing ammunition for the Femi-Nazi’s to launch further assaults. Call it ‘THE’ job. The job market is a free market. Any potential employee with proper education and skills can land THE job.

  • Randy Morris

    To say that women aren’t making a choice is nothing but semantics. Women aren’t forced to not complete their educations or work jobs that require less education or time commitment. They choose to do so because the money isn’t their top priority. This is just another guilt trip put upon women that have a different set of priorities than those outside of Utah. I’m sure there are other states that have local predominant religions that have similar statistics. Even the men here accept lower wages to stay in Utah rather than go to other places with higher wages, because they prefer the lifestyle available here.

  • Finny Wiggen

    This individual first admits that the disparity is entirely due to the choices made by women and then goes on to then discount her admission, and attempt to place the blame on society…

    Being so willfully ignorant is sad.

    Rather than going to great and twisting lengths to blame society, just accept the reality of the admission you already made. The disparity is entirely and completely due to the choices that women make. Period.

    And these choices are not wrong or bad. They are what is right for that individual and their family. This does not discount however the real world consequences of choosing the way that these individuals do. We all make trade offs in life. You don’t get everything. You choose between options, you chart your course, and you then live with the results of your choices.

    You don’t get to cry about the evils of society for keeping you their lack of defying logic, in giving you both choices together, and protecting you from facing the consequences of your own choices.

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