On Education and Being a Woman

DSCN0662“It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith.” [1]

Encouraging women to get an education is something our leaders do with frequency. It’s easy to find quotes from Presidents Hinckley, Monson and Benson, and from a myriad of apostles, and frankly, I believe them in their sincerity with this counsel. When you hit up the church websites, women are well represented in the text and in the photographs.

Why then does there seem to be such a disconnect between the counsel of our leaders, whom as Latter-day Saints we tend to take quite seriously, and with women actually finishing their degrees and having a workable plan with using their education after receiving (if they do) their degree? We have men we sustain as apostles telling us to go and do, and get that education. But then we have what I tend to see as part of the famous (infamous?) “unwritten order of things” [2]

There are the running jokes about women at BYU leaving with not a BA or BS, but with the coveted and desirable MRS, and nearly lamentable cultural idea that if you graduate from college without the MRS, a woman is nearly doomed to spinsterhood. There is frequent counsel to get married early and to not delay having children. There is the recent counsel that a woman who knows her true value and place will not feel the need to lobby for rights- do those rights include things like equal pay, or maternity leave?

The truth is, Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduates, more than double the next gap, and more than four time the national average. [3]  Also of note is that Utah is very near the national average for divorce, which doesn’t take a statistician (absolutely not me) to see the perfect storm there: undereducated women with young children finding themselves divorced and with no career avenues or even a workable plan. When your whole directive has been to get married young and start having babies, what do you do when that falls through?

Of course, this is something with which I am intimately acquainted. The cognitive dissonance between what we are encouraged to do as Latter-day Saint women and what is culturally reinforced is incredibly powerful. Yes, we are to be educated- but not too educated. Yes, we are to be educated, but we also simply must get married young and have babies quickly. And the pressure a woman is under to stay home with those babies is incredible and unrelenting- as any working (at home or outside the home) Latter-day Saint woman knows.

To be quire fair, when I went back to school as a newly divorced woman to finish my long-neglected college degree, I was lauded, and there was powerful support in my community- I can state that without reservation, both online and in my physical ward. It was clear to everyone, including me, that this was the only wise path.

At the same time (and anecdotal to be sure), as I neared completion of my undergrad and started looking at grad schools, I began to experience subtle shifts in conversation and comments, in particular, from women. It was suggested by a friend that I would have a harder time finding a husband if I went to grad-school, and wouldn’t I just be happy getting a job as an elementary teacher? Another well-meaning (I presume) person thought aloud if I might be taking a spot in grad school from a man who had a family to support. I nearly choked, and pointed out that I, too, had a family to support. (Though the underlying presumption was that if I would just get married, then I wouldn’t have to support my children- I guess.) Here on this very blog, a commenter felt comfortable asking if I had thought out who I might be inconveniencing in accepting a spot in grad school across the country, or if I just expected others to take care of things for me. There is a more-than-subtle vein of misogyny in these types of comments, and the safety another Saint feels in asking them.

I’m reflecting on this today because I crossed a personal milestone yesterday: For the first time since before I was married, lo back in 1999, when I gave up my career and began staying home full-time, I received a paycheck. It was a paycheck I earned, and I was able to pay my bills- rent, utilities, insurance and my first student loan payment. Aside from the deeply personal satisfaction of being able to take care of temporal needs, this fact has other, even deeper spiritual ripples…

Accompanying the feeling of pride and gratitude for my ability to finally support, to some real degree, myself and my children, there is also something I neither expected nor anticipated- there was a feeling of freedom. Up until now, the entire time I have been a mother I have been dependent of someone or something else. Even when that arrangement is entered into freely and jointly, there is an imbalance inherent in one person bringing in all of the financial means of support. I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back because someone else was providing them to me- even when done so freely and with all the grace in the world, it creates an imbalance. It was an imbalance I wasn’t even aware of until yesterday.

What having a living salary does is moves me from a position of being in need, to a position of being someone who chooses. It’s very subtle, but very, very powerful. Having an income, the means to support myself and my kids, is a game-changer. In all the areas of my life, I do not have to be looking for who will accept me and my three children and be grateful- I can instead look for people and situations in which I choose to be. Instead of being the girl waiting to be asked to dance, I can decide I don’t want to dance at all, or that I want to go to Paris, or that I want to… gasp… go to grad school!

I believe this is what the Lord wants for his daughters, and what our leaders, when they encourage women to get educated, are talking about. A woman who has the means and education to support her family becomes an entirely different woman. This applies as much to women in third world countries as it does to women along the Wasatch Front, and if we can wrap our minds around that counsel from prophets as our prime drive, I cannot see how the world will not change with us.


[1] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, June 1999
[2] The Unwritten Order of Things– Boyd K. Packer, BYU Devotional Address, October 15, 1996
[3] Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, US Census Issues February, 2012


  1. Amen and amen.

  2. “There are the running jokes about women at BYU leaving with not a BA or BS, but with the coveted and desirable MRS, and nearly lamentable cultural idea that if you graduate from college without the MRS, a woman is nearly doomed to spinsterhood.”

    These days it’s much more joke and much less “There is truth to every joke.” From ’95 to ’05 BYU graduated more women than men. Since then the numbers have been equal.


    Of course a lot of women choose majors that have less earning potential but that’s a different argument about the benefits of liberal arts vs. hard sciences.

    I’m a younger but when I was dating I never even considered that graduate studies could be a deal breaker. I wonder if this is more an issue with generations older than I am.

    Does anyone in their 20’s run into backwards thinking as much anymore? And if you did, would you consider that person to be a person representative of the norm or an outlier?

  3. Those stats regarding graduation rates in Utah were from the US Census and published one year ago this month (February 2012). Is BYU radically different from the rest of Utah?

    Earning potential is a different discussion, and one I’m not really prepared to broker. I’m not a statistician, and of course these are broad generalizations, but I did actually try and fact-check myself (without proof-texting) to a reasonable degree.

    The overall gist of my post is that education is powerful, and women need it. For a myriad of reasons, but the bottom line is, we need it.

  4. And don’t forget Brigham Young:

    As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic, or become good bookkeepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation. These, and many more things of equal utility are incorporated in our religion, and we believe in and try to practice them.

  5. i realize I run this risk of being Utah-centric in this comment but for those who are from Utah or have significant ties to Utah, there is a website that may be worth a visit (http://www.utahwomenandeducation.org/). All others please feel free to ignore this post.

    One of the faculty members in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University, Dr. Susan Madsen, has been leading a state-wide initiative to gather data on women in education in Utah that includes educational attainment as well as data on attitudes and other causes. The initiative has now moved from research to action and is being transitioned towards others with responsibilities. I think the work that is being done with support from UVU and Governor Herbert is a significant recognition that we face a serious problem.

  6. Great post Tracy

    I think that for some people/couples/families that obtaining an education or having a back-up plan is somehow a sign of a lack of faith, as in ‘I follow the rules, I will be blessed’. If so, it bites so many women and families who are ill-prepared when adversity strikes and are then reliant on their family, ward, government, etc for subsistence – to speak nothing of the extra hardship of forging ahead with education and a career path in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

    Exhibit A could be the incessant local unit focus on food storage. Yes, food storage is important, yet it is ONLY one of the aspects of provident living – others include EDUCATION and EMPLOYMENT to name a few. Maybe it is that food storage is a pretty ‘third-rail free’ topic and people are more comfortable focusing on it.. I don’t know, but that seems to have been my experience.

    We all have our gospel hobbies and we can’t all do everything all the time… Education and a livable career option are vitally important to women in our faith community and I agree – I wish that local focus, support, and acceptance were easier to find.

  7. I think a contributor to the disconnect is the “Eternal Checklist”. Marriage is one of the few things we can “check off” if we want to get to the CK, like baptism, and we put so much worth on those benchmarks that we leave off the other things we need to be doing that will also contribute to our progression in the afterlife.

    Though we push for education as an insurance policy in this life, we tend to pass off as less important the words of D&C 130:18-19:

    18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
    19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

    Since it’s eternity, there must be plenty of time to get education, right? Why bother with it now?

  8. As a 28-year-old who graduated from BYU in 2006 without a wedding ring on her finger, I can tell you that 6 years ago the stigma was alive and well and not just a joke. And not just from the outside, but from the inside, too. I felt like a failure, as my plan had been to get a not-overly-employable BA degree (linguistics) and get married and have kids. I did get married shortly after graduating, and kids came soon after, but my senior year was SO hard on me emotionally because I still wasn’t married. A real career had been my “backup” plan.
    Now I see the other side: I make 6 figures and my husband is a SAHD. We get comments ALL THE TIME: “when is he going to go back to work so I can be a SAHM again”. (Answer: it’s not even a consideration at this point.) But you know what, he’s a better stay-at-home parent than I was (more patient and more sane), and I’m a better breadwinner than he was (I make three times what he did and I love what I do).
    I’ll admit, I wonder how much better I could be in my career if I had viewed college as a place to learn things I would actually be using, rather than a place to meet a spouse and put a back-up plan in place. I definitely wish I had taken econ and stats but why would I have? Since I was just there to “expand my brain” so I could be a better mommy, why not take the funner/fluffier classes or geared-for-mommy classes? It certainly isn’t that women can’t handle the “hard sciences”, it’s that our culture doesn’t give them any reason to. Why major in Chemical Engineering instead of MFHD? Why choose Information Systems over Eearly Childhood Development? If worse comes to worse and you need a job, you can always teach elementary school, which still lets you be a great mom first and brilliant mind second.

  9. This is a great post, and a conversation I feel like I have had 10,000 times with people, and will continue to do so, I’m sure. Ironically, I’ve never considered myself a work at home mom until last week, even though I just spent 10 hours this week editing a book that will be published this fall. Culture is tricky.

  10. “The overall gist of my post is that education is powerful, and women need it. For a myriad of reasons, but the bottom line is, we need it.”


  11. Yes, BYU is radically different from the rest of Utah. Many of the students don’t come from Utah anymore, and all students at BYU are high achievers, high test-scorers, and generally come from backgrounds that value education. During the last 20 years or so BYU has become one of the more selective universities in the country and graduation rates are high for both men and women. In fact, if you look at studies on graduation rates for women in Utah, they generally include a caveat that BYU is different because the demographic is different. BYU is a large, private research university that is selective in admissions and has high completion rates. Really the only other university in Utah taht compares with it is the U of U. Anecdotally as a woman who attended BYU for an undergraduate and graduate degree, I knew a lot of married women who still graduate. I know very few women who dropped out after getting married and I think that culture is changing. My experience as a life-long member of the church has generally been that active Church members tend to be more educated than non-members wherever they live and that education is encouraged for both men and women.

    As someone who works for one of the other universities in Utah, I think the “grad rates for women in Utah are low and it must because of the Mormons” idea is simplistic at best. Utah’s demographics are more complex than many people realize. There are the active Mormons who have professional jobs and good incomes, the active Mormons who are blue collar, and the inactive and non-Mormons who are often recent immigrants, first-generation Americans, undereducated, and stuck in the cycle of poverty. Even among Utah women, college graduation rates fluctuate widely. If you are a Hispanic woman from Kearns whose parents don’t speak English, you’re probably not going to go to college and you might not be very successful if you do. If you are a white woman from Sandy with actively LDS, college-educated parents, you’ll probably get into a good school and do well. Over the last 25 years or so, Utah has also changed from being a largely rural state with plenty of good job opportunities in things like manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, to being a state where most jobs are in more professional fields that need a degree. Many parents in Utah don’t have a degree and didn’t go to college. Also, families tend to be larger here so there is less available family support for each child, and when you have to pay your way through school that makes it much harder to stick with it and graduate.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the situation for women college students in Utah is complex, and while LDS Church membership is one factor in that, there are many others. I hesitate to extrapolate the statistics from Utah out to the entire Church.

  12. In 1996, I took a job in Provo and moved into single student off-campus housing so I could concentrate on the job, find a cheap place to live after the end of the semester, and wait out the four months until I got married. I had five single male roommates. One evening, they were actually in a heated discussion about what acceptable majors for girls might be – they settled on Early Childhood Education, Family Science, and Nursing. Anything else was a waste of a badly needed spot at BYU. I’d heard about these attitudes previously, but I was still shocked. I mean, one of them was a telemarketer and couldn’t be expected to know any better, but the rest of them seemed like intelligent guys with multiple functioning brain cells.

    Prior to marriage, and while attending a different non-Utah school, several lady students over 40 would take my girlfriend aside and tell her “Under no circumstances do you quit before you get your degree.” Then they would turn to me and state, “If you have to drag her to class, you make sure she finishes her degree. Not someday down the road, but *now*. Do not let her quit for any reason.”

    Now, being over 40 myself, I’m grateful for the advice and I’ll repeat it to anyone who will listen.

  13. All my life I have heard the jokes and stereotypes of BYU as a place that women only go to so that they can get married. After 20 years of close association with BYU, however, I can honestly say that I have never heard a female student express such a sentiment. The women I knew and know at BYU all intended and intend not only to graduate, but to do well at their chosen major. This is not to say that marriage is not a important aspect of many BYU’s students lives. But, I don’t think that most young women go their today with the sole purpose of getting married.

    I have come to the conclusion that the idea that women at BYU only want to get married is either a myth created by those who do not have actual experience with women at BYU or something perpetuated from an earlier time, say the 1970’s, when that may have been the case.

  14. I do think the conversation we should be having isn’t how we encourage LDS women to go to college, but how to encourage them to look realistically at their futures and make good decisions that will prepare them for whatever comes their way in the future. While this is particularly an issue for Church members, it’s a discussion that is being had in education throughout the country. For years the mantra was ‘get a college degree”, but now we’re realizing that practical experience and a career path are vital too. I was told for years “major in what you love and something will work out”. Well, I got a BA and an MA in Spanish and I loved getting my degrees. Getting an MA was great for when I needed a part-time job and could teach as an adjunct. But now I’m 34, divorced, and in need of a career. I have a path I want to follow, but I’m going to need another degree and for right now I’m in an entry level job with a salary that barely puts me above the poverty level for my family size. As I was going to college as an undergraduate, and even as a married graduate student, I didn’t think I wanted or needed a ‘career’, and two-career families are a whole other discussion, but I think a bit more discussion of the realities of today’s education system and job market would have been helpful somewhere along the way.

  15. #8 Jenn, yes you are right. There is still a lot of pressure to get married at BYU. I felt it too. Even had a High Counselor tell our whole Elder’s Quorum that we weren’t following God’s commandments because we were single and God commanded us to get married. I get a kick out of that one. It’s one of the few, “Mormons are crazy!” stories I have.

    However, I can’t think of any women I know who got married while in school and then dropped out. While there is a lot of encouragement to get married there seems to be a lot of encouragement to do well in school and finish too. The graduation rates seem to reflect that. At least at BYU.

    Since I fear I might be derailing the discussion I do agree with the OP and her basic point. we seem to be only arguing a minor quibble that doesn’t change the overall point of her post. I do think that a lot of the necessary change has already happened among younger generations and it will be come more evident as those generations mature and become leaders who have more influence in the church.

  16. My sister got married at 19 while at BYU, and dropped out to work to support her husband (his education was the higher priority), and then to have kids. It’s one of her big life regrets, to be the only kid in the family without a degree- to the point that she gets nervous in intellectual discussions because she feels everyone else has an advantage because of their education. She’s a fabulous stay at home mom but her youngest goes into kindergarten next year and then what? How does she regain her identity beyond being a mom of young kids? Scrapbooking and canning?
    It’s not as common as it was, but it does happen, and it’s a shame. To me the bigger shame is that while AT BYU, even for those who do get the degree, the focus is less academic and more on, as previous posters said, “checking off a list”. Get a degree? Check. Get married? Check. Make babies? Check. Realize that you’ve been undervaluing your brain and your potential all along? Check. …

  17. Just to reiterate, this post wasn’t about BYU, and I cited statistics I found for the state of Utah, published in 2012. There is no doubt there are many extenuating circumstances that influence all of the decisions a woman makes, and I don’t doubt many women do in fact graduate from college in Utah.

    What I was trying to point out is the powerful mixed messages we get from our leaders, and how much social pressure is, to this day, on a woman to succeed at home. When a woman like me, divorced with three children, is encouraged to marry over attending grad school, there is a cultural disconnect. We link it to righteousness, to being “blessed” when we choose to do “the right thing”- ie: stay home with our kids. Yes, there more and more women breaking this mould, but the fact is, it’s still the prescribed and institutionally reinforced model, despite economic realities.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    There are many different paths through life, for both men and women. There isn’t one right way to skin the rabbit, however much Mormons are disposed to think so. Would it have been more wise for Tracy to get this education earlier in her life? From one point of view, yes. In the long run, it is rather more difficult to say. I’m getting my degrees in my late 40s. I would have saved myself a great deal of trouble had I done it 30 years ago. Oh, but the pains and the passions and the things I’ve seen and learned that I could not have seen and learned had I been under the thumb of a one true life path for men.

    Quite often we mistake a certain path through life is the gospel. Born, baptized, mission, temple marriage, babies, career, repeat. But this is not the gospel. The gospel is faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost into one’s life – and these principles work in all kinds of life paths that vary and are possibly even unrecognizable from the one true Mormon path, however it is configured at any given historical moment. And all of which are designed to _learn us good._

    We often mistake the essential thing being so caught up in forms mixed with anxieties.

  19. Unknown (13)
    “The women I knew and know at BYU all intended and intend not only to graduate, but to do well at their chosen major. ”

    I would agree, I don’t know hardly anyone who came ONLY to get married. But marrying was still the priority. I knew I would go all four years, and do the best I could in my major. We are not a culture of underachievers, to be sure. My degree would help me educate my children and set a good example for them.
    BUT I also “knew” I wouldn’t have a career unless I was unwed, and getting married was the priority. If I had had to make a decision between marriage and finishing my degree, I would have chosen marriage in a second. And I’m definitely not alone there: all 5 of my freshman roommates would have done the same (fortunately all but one of them did go on to graduate, and the other is graduating a bit later than the rest but I’m thrilled she graduates this spring with a baby on her lap.)
    I’m glad that many men see the value in educating women, as well- and I have seen that first hand- but I’ve also seen/felt the “BYU: A ring by spring or your money back” mentality firsthand in the dorms and beyond. We were getting our education, definitely, but it was to make us better future wives and mothers, not for our own sake and certainly not for real future careers.

  20. Sorry, Tracy, to keep dragging the post back to BYU, but it really is the place where the culture is seen the strongest, IMO. I really do agree with everything you’ve said, 100%.

  21. I don’t know who “Unknown” has been speaking with, but as a former BYU and BYUI alumni, I know with a surety that women go to college to get their MRS degrees and panic when they graduate unmarried. Further, I have roommates who have contemplated leaving the church because they’re 25 and the pressure to marry is so strong in their wards that they feel the single Mormon stigma will follow them forever (or until they get married). I APPLAUD this post! It is important to teach our daughters the importance of an education and like Jessie said, the importance of choosing the right field. I know when I set out for the west, I knew I wanted to finish my degree, go on a mission, and then get married. Needless to say, I was overly ambitious and now at 25, I am a divorced single mom. Thank goodness I listened to those over 40 sisters in my classes who encouraged me to never give up, whether I had one child or ten. Today, I have a steady job where I used my degree every single day and I am proud that I can provide for my family. In light of what the author complained about… I have been told many times that my ambition to go to law school is a waste of time. I should be finding a husband to take care of my child and I. As valuable as they (bishop, stake president, etc) this this advice may be, I would rather hear them say “Go get your law degree because who knows what the future holds!” I don’t know that I’ll ever marry again. What I do know is that I will regret my decision to never go back to school when I was young and had the chance to do it. I wish our religion held more progressive ideas because those of us (women) who have to work, want equal pay, and seek after higher education often get sent to the curb. We need to change our collective thinking that a graduate degree should be saved for a man because I can honestly say that I can hold my own and I also deserve a place. I want there to be a place for me in the church! I belong there too, even if I am a single mom and even if I am divorced. I too fell in love with the story of Joseph Smith and his earnest prayer that changed the world. I too feel the Spirit. I too believe that women are wonderful in the eyes of God and that our Father loves both men and women equally. **Wonderful post** Good luck in all of your endeavours and I say, we need more women like YOU!

  22. My wise grandfather made certain to remind me often that the purpose of going to college was to get an education and that if I found a wife in the process that was just an added bonus. Having gotten married at BYU, the thought never occured to me that my spouse would leave without a degree. Perhaps I’m an exception to what is perceived as the normal BYU experience.

    While I do see the value of higher education, I believe that we as a people should encourage our daughters and sons to study and gain skills which will be valuable in an increasingly competitive workplace. Far too many young women and men are leaving the ivory towers of academia with “degrees” but without any marketable skills what-so-ever. I can think of few bigger disappointments than spending years of your life pursing an education only to end up in a dead-end meanial job because nobody needs the skill-set you spent so much time and energy attaining.

  23. Hooray for Lucy! Any chance you’ve seen the FMH’s scholarship? You sound like the ideal candidate! http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2013/02/announcing-tracy-mckay-fmh-scholarship-application-and-deadlines/

    Best of luck in your endeavors! Go get that law degree!

  24. You are right, Tracy, there is a huge disconnect between what our top leadership is telling us and the pressure we get from our culture. I support fully your main point: We need to listen and accept what actually is being preached now and let go of what was said in the past, even if we (those my age) built our lives around what was said in the past.

    I’ve said for a few years that our leadership is trying to change the mindset and culture of the previous decades. The Proclamation to the World speaks of being equal partners who share duties within primary roles, and it also says in crystal clear terms that individual couples need to adapt the generalize roles to fit their personal circumstances – and that is a radical departure from our past. We also have recent references to parents both presiding in the home and single mothers presiding in their homes – and that is a radical departure from our past.

    We talk the talk when it comes to continuing revelation and following our top leadership, but, so often, when dealing with things that are deeply ingrained into our culture, that water doesn’t get to the end of too many local rows.

    Luckily, the members who are the age of my children (24-10) get it and accept it to a much larger degree than I and my generation did when we were their age – because they are hearing a different message than we did. I am grateful for that change and wish “we” would follow “them” (both our top leaders and our children) more than we do.

    It’s interesting that it’s the oldest and the youngest who are leading the way.

  25. it's a series of tubes says:

    my ambition to go to law school is a waste of time

    Lucy, please appreciate that the following applies equally to anyone, man or woman, considering law school right now:

    The economics of the legal profession are not what they once were. Law school is enormously expensive (almost certainly $100K plus in student loans), and job opportunities are scarce (for the past 5 years, the number of graduates has exceeded the number of jobs by more than 2 to one). You might be one of the few who gets a high paying job after law school, but most current graduates face heavy debt burdens and bleak job prospects.

    I’d love to see you succeed in whatever you put your mind to, and wish you the best – but if it is law school and a legal career, please approach it with your eyes open to the risk/reward balance.


  26. it's a series of tubes says:

    Ah, the comment system ate my signature. Trying again:

    a partnership-track senior associate in Biglaw

  27. It’s amazing how the distant past has already become such a foreign land. Utah 25 years ago was a largely rural state? Nonsense. I grew up in Utah in the 50s and 60s and even then most of Utah’s people lived in cities. Sure, there was a FFA chapter at Provo High in the late 60s–early 70s, but the few people with manure on their boots who belonged to it were as rare as the students who noted the Moratorium against the Vietnam War in November 1969.

    And BYU a place for printing MRS degrees for women? I remember a statement by President Oaks, from his earliest days as BYU president, which my father kept under the glass on his desk in the Chemistry Department: “Let us forever banish the idea that BYU exists for any reason other to provide a high quality university education.”

    Finally, BYU a “research university”? That’s not its mission. And it’s not.

  28. I agree with Mark B that BYU is not known as a research university- at least not in any publications or interactions I had in looking at grad schools. That’s not to say it doesn’t provide decent educations in some fields, but I defer to Joanna Brooks and her column on choosing a university- http://askmormongirl.com/

  29. #2 Bryan S: In the mid-2000s, almost all of the guys I went out with and dated long-term expressed deep discomfort about my plans for grad school, usually proclaiming at some point that once I got married, I’d change my mind. One of them cited it as a major reason for ending the relationship. And most of them would describe themselves as progressive, liberal, free-thinking, etc. etc. I think that it’s pretty representative of the norm.

    One aspect of the problem that this excellent post didn’t touch on is the extent to which this attitude toward education and marriage is inculcated through the YW program. When I was first called to YW a few years ago, I was horrified by the ratio of marriage to education lessons (approximately a million to one). I tried to correct the imbalance a bit by holding a career night with women from the ward as speakers, and another night in which we went through the basics of applying to college, but just in terms of numbers, the YW are getting a very clear message. While the new manuals might go a little ways towards helping correct this, there’s an immense cultural shift that needs to happen.

  30. “I believe this is what the Lord wants for his daughters, and what our leaders, when they encourage women to get educated, are talking about”

    Me, too. And so did my father, who encouraged my sisters to earn degress (which they did). The night before my wife and I were married, my father’s only comment: “If R— does not finish her degree, I’m holding you personally responsible.” It would never have occurred to me that my wife would not finish her degree.

    I appreciate Ray’s comment that there is a disconnect between what the senior leadership is teaching as what the culture teaches us, and that should come as no surprise. Although Sister Dalton’s referenced talk really wasn’t about early marriage, she did hold up her own experience as evidence, and those who were listening for marry-early advice certainly got it from her talk.

    I’m happy my daughters have placed a priority on their educations. My oldest of three daughters has graduated and is working in her field. #2 is mid-way through, and the youngest is still in middle school, but has college plans. Their mother’s example has played a role in their thinking, and I hope my support has helped. (Two of our three adult sons have not completed college, though one of those is still working at it. Their high-school aged brother has plans for law school (though I’ll share with him tubes’ advice…)

  31. Chris Kimball says:

    “What having a living salary does is moves me from a position of being in need, to a position of being someone who chooses.”
    With all due respect, I think the discussion of BYU misses the point almost completely. Which is that encouraging women to get an education is not enough. That it happens, has happened, is happening, is true. But we need something more to move women to a position of “being someone who chooses”. That’s what feminism is about, isn’t it? Not one right way, neither mine nor yours, but choice and self-determination and, yes, control. And since I’m of an age and gender that makes me inherently suspect, I’ll just say that’s what I want for my daughter and granddaughters.

  32. Thanks tubes. I’ve heard the bad news and fortunately for me, the university I plan to attend is in state and $30,000. I also own a restaurant and will be using some of my savings to pay for school (don’t worry, I can multitask). I am surrounded by family and friends and the support they offer is amazing. Thanks for the encouragement Jenn!! I’m looking into that scholarship as we speak. Tubes, I currently work alongside a law firm that specializes in legal immigration(which is what I want to go into) and their advice has been divine. The Lord has set a beautiful plate in front of me and I think it would be rotten of me NOT to partake of the blessing when he’s laid it all before me, don’t you think?… Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet that guy everyone keeps talking about in law school. Or maybe I’ll have a kick butt education and will be able to provide for myself and my child.

  33. 1000 points for Chris Kimball- this is exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate. We need to not stress just getting a degree, but “being someone who chooses” (and has the resources, like education, to enable them to choose).

  34. It’s funny. My sister, we don’t live in Utah, met a guy and they both worked on their degrees, hers in mech. Engineering and his in Computer something or other. Once they graduated, found excellent jobs then they got married. Once they paid off all their debt, all of it they had three kids and by the time they were 30 had a house in a nice area. They bucked all the advice, trends and whatnot and are doing fantastic and I am super proud of my sister for doing it too! I on the other hand, did what the Brethren, general and local told me, had revelation about for me get a education, get married, have kids, serve in the Church and work as much as possible. I did it all and it ALL totally blew apart. So, now I am divorced,have depression, am in mid 30’s and my job is nothing really. So screw me for listening to the brethren

  35. A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter and I were talking about grades, and I was giving her the “what you do now in high school will determine what kind of college you can get into and what you get to study” discussion. She replied something to the effect that she didn’t care so much about doing great in school because she planned to be a stay at home mom like her mother. (Who was 8 months pregnant with our first child when she walked across the stage to get her bachelor’s degree.) I pointed out to her that, yes, so far it’s worked out that way for us, but then named her two aunts and grandmother for whom it didn’t work out that way. I told her that we’re one car accident away from her mom having to support the family, so good thing she got her education. It kind of clicked, kind of didn’t.

    That’s not a prevalent attitude among the young women, is it? Or is it only an issue for girls who’ve grown up in a stable, one-income family? I’m okay with her HOPING to be a stay at home mom for a time, but I’m hoping we make serious headway into the “you need to be ready to support a family on your own” territory.

  36. it's a series of tubes says:

    The Lord has set a beautiful plate in front of me and I think it would be rotten of me NOT to partake of the blessing when he’s laid it all before me, don’t you think?…

    Absolutely – from the additional information you provided, you are clearly doing your diligence and understand the risks and opportunities. Hope it turns out fantastic!

    My comments were directed to the mindset (not yours, clearly) of “law school” as some form of golden ticket, rather than as a significant investment that pays off for far fewer people than it used to.

  37. Amen! In my family, all my siblings went off to church schools. One of my sisters bounced around until she found a husband, my other two sisters finished their degrees and used them to help their husbands finish college. Our (non-Mormon) family history is filled with women who were teachers, who crossed the plains to California with no husband or son to help, who supported families in the death or absence of husbands. I am the oldest, and in my mid 30s, so I don’t know what my sisters and I may go through in the future.

    I finished my associates degree while breast feeding twins. My professors told me to wait to finish my bachelor’s degree until I was ready to use it, because the opportunities of internships matter most when you will use them within a year or two, not 15 years later.

    I have had several jobs as a mid-level manager where my promotion and salary have been determined by the results I can get out of my team. (Almost all of those employees had bachelors or masters degrees, but none ever asked if I did.) I was lucky to have been lucky to be “plucked” out of a trainee program, when it became clear that I did not need months of training to be able to perform a job adequately, but I have found that often being willing to take the same “entry-level” jobs available to college graduates, the difference between real world experience has always served me well.

    That doesn’t mean I think bachelors or masters degrees are not a good thing. If our family is ever in a position where I will have the flexibility to travel to a school that has a good program, in a career I would like to have, certainly I would take it. However, I am aware that I need to keep my mind, and skills sharp, so I am ready to re-enter academia if that becomes the right choice.

    Without a doubt, I think that encouraging women to use their education, and keep up on their skills, is really important. Being realistic about which skills will translate into jobs, now or in 15 years, is more difficult.

  38. The truth is, Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduates, more than double the next gap, and more than four time the national average. [3] Also of note is that Utah is very near the national average for divorce, which doesn’t take a statistician (absolutely not me) to see the perfect storm there: undereducated women…

    Not to take away from the point of the post, but just to set the record straight a bit on the numbers: statistically speaking, Utah women are not “undereducated.” Utah is about average for women with bachelors or higher degrees (26th out of 50 states). The male/female gap is due to significantly higher numbers of men getting degrees (12th out of 50).

    (Downloadable spreadsheet at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_013.asp for those who like playing with the actual numbers.)

    Also note that these statistics are for all adults 25 and up; if we were to look at differences by age, we’d see that the majority of the gap is due to older people. Recent graduation rates are much closer to parity, as has already been pointed out.

    Back to your main point: there does seem to be a gap between what the Church leaders are telling us and what the culture says. We need to pay more attention to what the leaders say and pay less attention to the busybody next door.

  39. Jessie – “During the last 20 years or so BYU has become one of the more selective universities in the country and graduation rates are high for both men and women.”

    BYU’s 2011 acceptance rate was 68%, a little higher than the average Big 10 school, and not at all comparable to truly selective schools like Harvard (5.9%) or Cornell (16%). BYU graduation rates are 31% (in 4 years) and 78% (in 6 years). The 6-year rates are close to Big 10 schools, but well below Harvard’s 98%.

    University of Utah acceptance rate was 85%, and 6-year graduation rate was 55%. So as long as you are only comparing school in the inter-mountain west, BYU looks pretty good. Once you look across the nation, however, the “cream of the crop” claim falls short.

  40. I have mixed feelings on the whole thing which would take an entire blog post to fully explain.

    But I graduated with a degree completely unrelated to the field I have worked in since because I was impressed to avoid the debt my dream career would have required. And while I know I made the correct decision, part of me resents it. (And I have felt that resentment as I have watched you, Tracy, go through your journey.) The better part of me is so, so happy for you. I love how people you know online rallied to support you through your divorce, and subsequently through your decision to receive an education.

    But the lesser part of me is wildly jealous. Since the initial class I took, and since turning down a job in my dream field, I’ve been putting off furthering my education. I can’t support my family in the short run (5 years or so) doing what I love. But I can nearly double my earning power by taking a few classes in my current field, which is not my favorite. So, I’m gearing up to make the tough decision that most men have had to face from the very beginning: furthering a less-desirable career path because it provides for a family.

    That’s why I really appreciate what Jessie said in #14. The decision I made long ago to abandon my first choice of careers and get the education I longed for was a blessing nearly a decade later when I divorced. I was able to earn a living wage, especially once the garnished child support came through. And while I could have earned much better had I pursued my original career path, it would not have been as flexible as I need as a single mom who cannot move out of the area.

    I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, except to you, Tracy, to say that I admire your choices and am glad you are aware of how much of a blessing the support you have had means to you, and in general to say it isn’t always as simple as just getting education. I know single women my age in $50,000+ debt with Ph. D. degrees that are useless for making money. At least I can provide, which is a huge relief, particularly after surviving the scary time right after the divorce when I couldn’t feed my pregnant self or my child. That changes priorities.

  41. I used to think a woman could have as many kids as her family could support and she wanted. Now I think a woman would be unwise to have more children than she can support by herself, no matter how many she wanted. I view my graduate education as my food storage–it will rescue me from hard times more permanently than canned peaches ever could.

    Of course, not all education and fancy degrees are created equal–I think a practical skillset is the bomb. Also, women need to be even more thoughtful about educational debt than men because there is little leeway for childbearing and rearing.

  42. I believe this whole dynamic is in the process of a major transformation due to the change in mission age for women. Young women will now be under far more social pressure to go on missions, which will interrupt their education. So the question is how many will come back and jump right back into school, as opposed to getting married? Hard to say.

    My prediction is that more and more relationships will begin the mission field (aka the new singles wards), and then the women will get married to their district leader and start having kids right after their mission ends. If I am right the number of women graduating from college will drop significantly in the next 5-8 years. I hope I’m wrong.

  43. “I hope I’m wrong.”

    I am positive you are, at least with reference to the “new singles wards” and “the women getting married to their district leader” – unless polygamy is reinstated.

  44. The issue isn’t a degree vs married anymore. (Although I have seen far too many women of my generation – early 30’s – drop out to put their husbands through school.) The issue is that women are told VERY early on to not imagine themselves working. Once you do that to a young woman, at best it is difficult to see past college graduation; at worst, you don’t see yourself graduating from college at all. Further, as education becomes increasingly expensive, how do you justify taking loans (because increasingly that is the only way to get through a BS in a traditional 4 years) when you are never going to work?

    I went through a MAJOR crisis at 20. I excelled at academics – enough to be on pace to graduate at 20 from UofU. That excelling was, in part, a reflection of the message to get an education from my parents and church. But when I wasn’t yet married or on track to be so, I didn’t know what to do. I had chosen a major that was somewhat practical if you went to grad school, but I had never imagined myself at grad school…. because good Mormon women get just enough education just ‘in case’ (divorice or widowhood happens). To change gears and do the obvious was hard to say the least.

    In some ways I think changing the missionary age *may* help, but in other ways it could actually make the situation worse as it will be just one more competing interest to add to marriage, putting the male through school, and having babies.

  45. An ex-boyfriend informed me that pursuing grad school as a “back-up” scenario was perceived as a sign that the marriage would not succeed. Pursuing it for pleasure cost money and needlessly delayed children, and life insurance was always there in case of death. Therefore, there was no need for me to work/go to grad school. Therefore, I broke up with him.

  46. I can’t believe in 2013, there are still people who believe that a woman who goes to grad school is taking a spot away from a man who needs it or would make better use of it. If that is not proof that sexism still exists, I don’t know what is.

  47. Bonnie Flint says:

    Utah has a wonderful organization which supports educational excellence for women. It is the Women’s Philanthropic Network I’m sure other states havea something similar. There website is a treasure trove of information regarding this topic. My RS President is on the board of this fine organization, which is sponsored by the United Way and backed by many of Utah’s largest corporations.

    “Post-secondary education enrollment figures for Utah women have steadily declined since the early 1990’s, a trend that has resulted in Utah ranking 26th in the nation for higher education completion by women. The gap between male and female’s attaining four-year college degrees in Utah has grown to 6 percent. No other state is even close to a gap this size. This reality has severe consequences on our state’s economy and families. In fact, due to lower education levels, women in Utah currently earn only 69 cents for every dollar men earn— the highest disparity rate in the nation.” – WPN website


  48. Bonnie Flint says:

    Excuse the typos. I think I should stop typing on my phone. :)

  49. It’s fascinating that graduate school has become the point at which women’s education becomes suspect. My grandmother had to pretend not to be married in order to complete her B.A. at the U of U back in the thirties. At some point bachelor’s degrees seem to have become more acceptable for women. But not graduate degrees.

    I had two different bishops tell me not to get any more education; one couldn’t tell me to my face but only expressed his skepticism to the head of the household my husband, and the other proposed that I have a baby instead. At least he proposed it to my face. Another vital life skill we need to teach YW–and YM–is when to smile politely and ignore every word that’s coming out of a bishop’s mouth.

  50. I too dumped a guy because he didn’t want me to go to grad school (that was in 2004). He said something like “You know, I don’t think you’ll be going to grad school; I don’t really see it in our future.”

    Well…I don’t see it in OUR future either. Goodbye.

  51. I love you, Tracy.

  52. I too agree that the real issue we face right now isn’t so much supporting the idea women should be educated, but rather have a robust discussion regarding what happens after a degree and what the degree is for. From the leadership it really does seem that the conversation stops at “get all the education you can” and then at very least becomes much more ambiguous with general counsel seeming to revolve around “not putting off family for luxuries”, motherhood being more important for career “To the Mothers in Zion” style, and no real robust discussion of thinking through the possibilities and decision points of young married couples. Never once have I heard a 70 or above church leader mention the choice to delay having kids in a positive light in an actual concrete story. I am hard pressed to recall a story in conference or a talk regarding a young married women working and her accomplishments (I would love to be wrong about this if someone can link to one). I am hard pressed to think of any quote from a living church leader that comes close to the Brigham Young quote cited above. The best we seem to have is the tacit approval given by the I am Mormon campaign that highlights some dual income with small kids families and even a married women with a SAHS in Spain who supports her career as a TV personality.

    This is problematic I think because of the long standing changes to the economy in the United States that have undermined the viability of a single male breadwinner model for many, many families. (For those interested we are going to run a year long series over at FMH that explores this in depth.) Also, problematic is that in a worldwide church more and more of our members are in the developing world where such a model is also difficult. This leaves a lot of couples at the mercy of bishop roullette when it comes to seeking ecclesiastical advice on these issues. We were fortunate to have a bishop who encouraged my wife to complete her education when a great opportunity presented itself adn then again when she really wanted to drop out following a difficult miscarriage. I am so grateful for him because at that point my wife needed to hear that from an ecclesiastical leader because even my support and remonstrations weren’t enough for her to overcome her uncertaintly and the “Mothers in Zion” rhetoric from the top. I think it is largely up to us in our local ward communities to step in and help mentor and support young women and young families in helping them make the better decisions.

  53. Great post and conversation.

    I’m with rah. The messages women get from church leaders, magazines, and curriculum has hardly changed at all. NO ONE is giving our YW or YM realistic, useful advice about career planning. It could be happening with wise local leaders, but it is NOT coming from SLC.

    I feel like we are sometimes so desperate to feel like the church has changed that we say it has, even when it really hasn’t–as a coping strategy?

    For example, we’ve been waiting for new YM/YW curriculum for what, 20 years? Does the new curriculum send better messages about this vital issue? I don’t think so.

    Honestly, the whole thing makes me feel like Sisyphus.

  54. Congratulations, Tracy!

    As far as a worldview, quite a few of the PEF recipients have been married women. Carolina, for example, was a married mother of two when the church funds were given for her education

    I did go to BYU in the 1970s, and everything I heard was to finish your education. Marilyn Arnold was dean of women or something, and she was always talking about how every BYU coed should sit down with a mother who was returning after divorce, so that we would understand how much harder it would be. And during the summer, we had women in our classes who were there with their children to finish or recertify in a program that allowed moms and kids to live in the dorm, a program that June Oaks used to finish her degree, and a program that was pretty much described in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. I did slow down to part-time the semester a baby was born, but I was never discouraged from finishing.

    I never felt dependent on my husband during the years that I did not happen to have my name on a paycheck, because of our interdependence and valuing of homemaking as work. He couldn’t do the paid work he did without my hard work at home.

    I think like much else in life, balance is the key. I have a colleague who recently retired who does not know how to cook. Her focus was on career and earning income. She eats out or microwaves prepared meals. Her food budget is a lot more than for our entire family, and I shudder at the health consequences. There is value in having the time to practice thrifty homemaking skills; it’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.

  55. I echo Rah, too.

    #44 “The issue is that women are told VERY early on to not imagine themselves working.” Well said.

    My PhD dad and MA mom of course encouraged my 3 sisters and me to get tons of education–it was a priority. But when it was time for me to choose my path back in my 20’s, those messages in YW were like a broken record in my head. I love my social sciences grad degree, but I’m frustrated that I neglected certain educational/career choices due to their “incompatibility” with being a SAHM later down the road. Ugh.

  56. Naismith,

    Thanks for linking to the story from the PEF. The PEF is my favorite church program and it is great to see that they are giving funds to married mothers in the developing world to help them get an education and an income producing job. That is really heartening. I hope stories like these make it into conference at some point!

    Also, I agree that thinking carefully about approaching homemaking from a viewpoint of economic value (our FMH series I think may surprise you in how we deal with this topic) is a wonderful discussion to have. It is also one we need to have as a society (Social Security credit for stay at home parents!) I do think it needs to be tempered with some hard thinking about the consequences of assymetric risk and dependence that such models contain. How do we mitigate this and prepare in a common-sense way for worst case scenarios? How do couples help maintain equality of partnership with such assymetry? I think there are some decent solutions and common sense advise out there that can strengthen how these marriages work and help avoid the far too frequent stories of women and children put in bad situations. This deserves its own full discussion – even series I think!

  57. Furthering education for both partners in a marriage is very fulfilling – job prospects aside. it breathes achievement, learning, confidence, self-sufficiency, and so much more into the relationship. While it may not be always practical for both to pursue higher education immediately upon marriage or when kids arrive, it should always be a high priority as soon as possible. attending community classes with your spouse is a fun way to spend time learning and experiencing new things together… this is such a foundational aspect that it is sad that so many are frustrated by the mixed messages from SL and locals, but we all need to recognize that we forge our OWN path through life and that means that from time to time we might have a prickly conversation or two with ‘do-gooder busybodies’ trying to enforce the ‘unwritten order of things’. So what – move on.

  58. jeffc I like it. Keeping a marriage fresh and out of the ruts of life is challenge. Its especially daunting when you are married young and staring down potentially 60 years of mortality and then eternity after that. Learning new things has been absolutely essential for us as a couple. Maybe that is why we were still in grad school in our 30s :) and have avoided suburban, corporate life. It has been an instinctive reaction to make us happy as a couple. Not that this has to be true for everyone but it is definitely only strategy.

  59. 57. Yes. But my concern is for a 28 yo LDS mom w/ 4 kids, recently divorced w/ no education, b/c she was raised in a small LDS community in AZ where no one (parents) encouraged her to get a viable career plan. She simply followed what was being taught at church and now is on welfare and church assistance (w/ no plans for education in the future). Or another 27 yo mom w/ 3 children under four, whose dh is addicted to video games. She’s totally depressed but feels she is doing the best, most divine thing by staying at home while waiting for her dh to get his act together and get a decent job. These are real cases in my ward.

    I realize this is just anecdotal, but I ache more for young women who are not taught in families to forge their own path. The messages in YW that epitomize being a SAHM at all costs are very strong to many of these girls.

  60. BTW, I’m all for church assistance (I hope it didn’t sound like I was against it, in my last comment). Tracy M, I know that was a key part of helping you on your journey at one point, and you’ve been open about that.

  61. Corrina – I share your concern completely.. I hope I didn’t come across as championing the delay of education.. quite the contrary.. there are many educational avenues available to SAHM (or SAHD for that matter) that don’t involve “moving to Provo and attending BYU full time”. community colleges offer night school and distance learning courses that can often be worked around when both participants place a priority on it. I was just trying to bring in some ‘non-breadwinner’ benefits of education to the discussion since IMO they can be priceless. None of us can see what the future holds for ourselves or others for that matter, but what we can do is try our best to live a life of fulfillment and preparation such that when the winds of adversity strike us (which they will), we can be perhaps a bit more confident in our ability to press forward.

  62. In my ward and stake I am seeing people with a high percentage of women taking advantage of the new pathways program that the church is now offering through BYU Idaho. It is a new way to get a very low cost degree online through BYU idaho. It’s a pretty new program but I think it shows that the church through things like PEF and the pathways program and with how many women get degrees through church schools, is trying to help women get an education. I’m sure there will be more programs in the future as well.

  63. “Even when that arrangement is entered into freely and jointly, there is an imbalance inherent in one person bringing in all of the financial means of support….I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back because someone else was providing them to me- even when done so freely and with all the grace in the world, it creates an imbalance.”

    This is something I actually struggle with right now, from the opposite side.

    In my marriage, I bring in about 3/4 of our income. My husband and I never combined our bank accounts when we got married, and that used to be handy, when we were both students working part-time, making pennies. Having separate accounts, and knowing what bills had to be paid from which accounts, was a type of forced budget.

    But now, pretty much all of the bills come out of my account, because all my husband’s money goes straight to his astronomical school loans. So we’re in the position of him sometimes needing to “borrow” money. And I hate that notion. We’ve always considered it “our” money, but I’m seeing now how it’s different when it’s money that I’ve earned, and is in my account. I’m really uncomfortable with that imbalance, and how it might affect him, but thus far, he doesn’t feel the need to combine our accounts.

    But yes, from the other side, I can verify that there is indeed an imbalance, and we haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it.

  64. “goes straight to his astronomical school loans”

    That’s what you get for studying astronomy.

  65. The Obama administration released a new “College Scorecard” this morning which reports various cost and graduation/job measures for American universities. (See http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card) It looks like BYU-Provo only has a 77.5% graduation rate. This is a 6-year graduation rate, so I think it would not be too heavily influenced by missions (either for men or women). Unless there is an epidemic of people (almost a quarter) dropping out, it is hard not to jump first to the conclusion that these are mostly girls getting married and not finishing school.

  66. My mom and lots of people in my stake are using the pathways program to finish their degrees that they started years ago. It seems pretty cool. I thought it was interesting when my mom told me about how one of her classes had an assignment to look into career options. She said that when she was a kid she never wanted to have a job when she grew up, she just wanted to be a stay at home mother.

  67. “This is a 6-year graduation rate, so I think it would not be too heavily influenced by missions (either for men or women).”

    Actually I think it would be heavily influenced. BYU 6 year graduation rate should be pretty much directly comparable to other colleges 4 year graduation rate. I mean, it’s pretty much a given that most men and a lot of women will automatically take off two years. And the way things are now, it’s nearly impossible to graduate in 4 years. I’m surprised the rate is that high actually.

  68. Agreed Bryan – there are plenty of preemies who don’t return to BYU afterwards, I suspect it would pull that number down a bit as well.

  69. I bounced around majors a bit and it took me 9 semesters to graduate from BYU. Add in a mission and I don’t make the 6-year mark. I imagine there are a lot of others out there like me–in fact, with some majors at BYU it is pretty common to need an extra semester or two unless everything is mapped out exactly from first semester of Freshman year. Comparing 6-year graduation rates is pretty useless when it comes to BYU–it doesn’t tell us anything.

  70. Naismith #54 – I also was at BYU in the 70s – 1972-73 then in 76-78. I was only 18 when I went in 1972 and never heard anything other than jokes about MRS. Degree. That’s all I heard growing up and from my church leaders when I was accepted to BYU. Not one person EVER told me how smart I was or that I could and should get a degree. So I married after one semester! I thought that’s what I was supposed to do – really. I had no idea I was expected to keep on with my education. After an Army stint for hubby (now X) we came back for him to finish school. He was on a full ride athletic scholarship. It still never occurred to either of us that I should go to school (we had four kids by then). We left BYU in Jan 1979 for DH to take employment on Colorado. He had only one semester left, which he never finished BTW. As I had more children and became wiser, I often brought up the discussion of me going back to college. His reply was that it made sense for him to finish since he was so close and now and then he made a token effort, taking a class here and there. Bottom line, in 29 years of marriage he never “let me” go back to school, which is the biggest regret of my life. I know I could have juggled it and succeeded, but no, I never did. After 29 years of marriage, we divorced and the first thing I did was use Pell Grants to go to college. I graduated with Honors, with two Associate Degrees at age 51. I tried going for my Bachelors after that but new marriage, kids, life got in the way. Plus, my mind simply didn’t memorize as well anymore and I reluctantly gave up. I have five daughters, One with a masters, one with a bachelors, one working on her bachelors, one w/o a degree and wonder of all wonders, my 15 y/o daughter is currently taking college classes as concurrent high school credits. Education is CRUCIAL for women and for men. A previous post mentioned the lack of serious educational/career talk in the YW program and I agree. I still believe the church gives more lip service to the idea but not the reality of more education for women. AT this stage of my life I have no career. I’ve had great job experience in my field – librarian – but am not hirable because of my age. I am now self-employed as a writer and history program developer and speaker, but could not make a living for myself. I sometimes wonder what might have been if just one person would have told my younger self that I was smart and should continue my education. I could have been a great many things…..

  71. PS – I’ve looked into BYU’s Independent Study degrees but they require at least 30 credits completed on campus and I only went one semester. I would LOVE to be able to finish my degree at BYU but simply don’t qualify and live too far away to attend on campus.

  72. Quick question – I don’t recall the YM program talking much about education either. Did I just not pay enough attention, or do the current (or even past) curriculums of the YM/YW have much aside from “be prepared to support a family”?

  73. #65: If BYU is at 77.5% at 6 years and others are at that level at four years, then it would be comparable. In fact, Quite of number of state schools are comparable to BYU’s rate, suggesting students at BYU are finishing faster, net of mission time.

    As for talking about education and careers — in the last two wards I’ve attended, they’ve had career nights for YM/YW, and both men and women have presented about their careers. Guess I just live in forward thinking stakes (lucky me). Granted, both are far away from the Mormon corridor.

  74. It goes without saying, though, doesn’t it, that what we explicitly teach (“get as much education as you can!”) is not half as well-learned as what we implicitly teach by example. There are some very well-educated women in my ward, and loads more smarties without the formal education to match, but very very few of those ladies use their education professionally at all. And lucky for them! They are married to doctors and lawyers and other professionals so they are Stay at Home Moms. Probably lots of youth don’t have any idea how well their own mothers are educated, and they certainly don’t think of their moms or their friends’ moms or any of the sisters in the ward as “workers.” Relatively few women in my ward work (again: lucky them) so I understand why males and females growing up in our wards don’t think of it as ideal or desirable. Now I don’t want to say we should put all the working women in high-profile callings with the youth so they see that example because, generally speaking, the working women are MUCH busier than the SAHMs, but it would be nice if working were not such an oddity. I propose all you SAHMs get a part-time job to set a better example for your kids and if you don’t “need” the money, I take donations.

  75. I think there may be an underlying current to this post and thread.. and that is why is there a tendency to attribute responsibility where there really isn’t or shouldn’t be very much? Ultimately we are responsible for our own actions/priorities and the most critical part of that teaching must be in our home. What educational values/priorities do our children observe in our own home, in our extended family, friends, etc? If my bishop and YM/YW leaders spend their time talking about marriage being the end all, that’s their problem.. yes it affects me and my family, but I need to provide that correct perspective for my children – even if it seems at times at odds with what others are saying.

    I think another way to think about this is to look at what are the success measurements for each shareholder with respect to our youth:
    – Parents want self-aware, educated, confident contributors in society
    – Bishops want the YM to serve missions and the YW to serve missions and/or get married
    – YM leaders want the YM to serve missions
    – YW leaders want the YW to serve missions and/or get married and/or college

    As parents, we have a longer range success measurement than these other adults in our youth’s lives. Higher education plays a gigantic role in the long range success… It doesn’t have much bearing on the ‘mission’ and ‘marriage’ measurements at all…

    Anyway, that’s my simple observation… worry less about the 20 minutes a week that a YM/YW leader/Bishop interacts with your child and much more about what you can do to help your children understand the tremendous value of learning and placing a priority on it even if they get married young and have children quickly.

  76. Pathways is an interesting program. It is a BYU-I initiative and involves the calling of missionaries to pitch it and supervise weekly meetings for the younger participants.

    Courses are pretty limited. Essentially GE plus mandatory religion courses. The regular academic courses are basically online courses.

    My key issue is that I’m not sure the value. Online degree programs have a pretty poor track record. They tend not to be very marketable. I know BYU-I is trying to obscure what is happening by not reporting that any graduates have actually done an online program.

    But, I know a considerable number of folks that think that Pathways is a path to a high paying job. I just don’t think it is a substitute for a regular academic program.

  77. I do not see any lessons on education in the new Come, Follow Me curriculum for YW. Of course, knowledge is one of the YW values, to there is still that…

  78. Do married women with careers even get called to teach YW? What about married, career and young children at home? The only one I can think of is my SIL who was promptly released the week after she told the girls to ‘finish college before you get married’. I know we try to promote an ideal at church. But if want to create a culture change, perhaps we should look at giving our daughters a wider variety of role models at church.

  79. in our ward a few years ago one of the YW counselors was finishing up her PH.D. in astrophysics, she doesn’t have kids but is married to a pilot, joined the Church in Sweden while doing her MA in Physics-AWESOME person!

  80. Went to BYU, married at 19, BA at 21, MA from BYU at 23, Ph.D. from another university at 28…nearly 31 now, BUT we have no kids yet in part so we could _both _ get to a place in our careers that Tracy describes. That feeling of being able to exercise your agency, it’s important for both partners, I think. We actually got more pushback and people treating us with subtle or not so subtle, um, concern?…in California when I was in my Ph.D. program. But really, we’ve gotten not too much of it…and my husband had to take more of it than I did. In our current ward, I’m the Laurels adviser, and more than one leader and many parents have told me how glad they are that I have the educational background and career I do for the sake of the YW. It’s really rather awesome. So I think maybe a culture shift could happen. I hope so.

    Great post!

  81. I’ve been too busy with school to keep up with BCC posts, much less 80 comments, but I read this one. The OP is spot on about the disconnect between encouraging education and actually doing something with that education. Without the expectation that women might need or (gasp) want to participate in the workplace, encouraging education is mostly lip service. I could be the poster child for what not to do.

    I dropped out of college (BYU in fact) to take a job, and at the time, not one single person told me what a spectacularly bad idea that was. I’d never been taught that planning and preparing for a serious career was worthwhile. After all, I was just going to get married and have babies, right? I was actually told just that, more than once at BYU. It’s in the DNA of our culture. I floundered a lot, and was just beginning to get an inkling that I had something to offer in the marketplace that needed to be trained, when I married. The worst thing that happened to my work-life was having a dh who was a capable breadwinner who supported us comfortably, but was busy all the time. I became what was the de facto expectation from birth — a SAHM who took care of every homemaking chore, for everyone in the household, including my dh. No time and zero support for career development. And no understanding that I could negotiate for support. I was too “privileged” to feel empowered to, ahem, agitate for what I needed. By the time the kids were in school I had a full blown case of situational depression. I divided my limited energy between propping up the household and managing my issues, largely by myself. Now my children don’t need very much of my time, and I’m navigating unfamiliar territory still. All of my peers who “had to work” are on the downhill side of successful and rewarding careers. I’m taking classes to get my skills up to speed, and wondering how I will compete in the market for a shrunken pool of entry level jobs. Still feeling guilt over taking a job from a “real breadwinner.”

    When I read about Tracy getting her first paycheck, it gave me chills.

    We could train our young girls so much better than we do.

  82. #78 – It’s uncommon if there are SAHMs around. Our ward had one working mother in the YW presidency, but she was only there for about a year until some new families with SAHM mothers moved in. There are very few working mothers in the ward, and only a few working married women with no children, so I could be drawing an incorrect conclusion.

    Interestingly, the YM President approached me to be on a Science Career Panel with some other ward members. I assumed this was for a joint activity, but I will be sure to ask when he confirms the date.

  83. I agree completely. I actually was just talking with my wife and wrote about something very similar on my blog. I saw a meme that made me so mad because it blatantly states that the “best” thing a woman can do it get married. Plus, if they pursue an education then they are only doing the good thing. In the context of the horrible “Good Better Best” talk given by Dallin Oaks it makes any woman who is unwed in school or on a mission look inferior.

    Great post. I love it.

  84. You must have heard a different talk from Elder Oaks than the one I heard. It was a lot better than the horrible comment thedavidpearson just made.

  85. #78, My unmarried, college-graduated, professionally employed daughter is YW President in her ward. And, speaking completely from an objective point of view, she is awesome.

  86. A few thoughts . . .
    1) #78 amen. YW leaders are typically SAHMs. Yes, #78, your ward has a token role model. Whoop-tee-do. For every outlier example like that you’ll find many more wards where SAHMs are the dominant examples in YW’s lives.

    2) The ‘unwritten order of things’ is for women to not use their degrees professionally. Look at the bios for nearly ALL the women in the General RS, YW and Primary presidencies! Look at the majority of GA’s wives! These women (SAHMs) set more of an example for us than all the BY and Hinckley quotes combined. I’ve noticed that President Monson’s administration has intentionally called more “women who know” (SAHMs) to leadership positions.

    3) Degrees aren’t like wheat in food storage. They don’t last for 25 years! Most degrees and references are obsolete in less than two years. If you don’t engage professionally, your degree is non-competitive. Also, dropping out of school near graduation and returning after children are raised usually requires re-taking about two years of college.

    3) Has anyone else observed that LDS women will quit college just a semester or a few credit hours short of graduation? In our area it is extremely common. I’ve seen several sisters bear their testimonies (and leverage social capital) by tearfully citing that God called them to return to the home and asked them to sacrifice their nearly-in-hand degrees. They testify that their family has been ‘so blessed’ because of their sacrifice. I have puzzled over this pattern for a while and have concluded that many LDS women purposefully sabotage their degrees. Whether or not God actually encourages or endorses this behavior, the ‘degree sacrifice’ is a powerful display of devotion for others and for self. Also, in a patriarchy the ‘degree sacrifice’ is a way for women to passively assert their place as SAHMs. If a financial crisis were to occur, she would likely not be a candidate to work outside the home because money earned would probably not offset child care.

  87. What a difference a few years make. Right, Tracy? Here are some blog posts from your blog from 2005.

    “Dearest Poco

    Mormon Mommy Wars is where I was introduced to your blog and opinion on stay-at-home mothers. At first I was offended on so many levels, I couldn’t possibly begin to tell you, but once I read your reply on MMW, my outrage mellowed into reason. I have also read some of your other posts, and now I want to communicate to you some of what someone from the “other side” feels. You seem like a sensible and intelligent young woman, and my hope is to open a dialogue, and not to chasten or alienate you. I am pleased that you have turned your “comments” option on.

    While I do not deign to speak for all stay-at-home moms and housewives, I know that my circumstances are not unusual. I am a “housewife” and I stay home with my small sons. However, I am educated, literate, well-traveled and I was formerly the vice-president of a Silicon Valley company. I have chosen to stay home. It was a decision my husband and I made together; not only was my husband supportive of my desire to be at home with our child, but when I chose to do so, we gave up the larger income. My husband was neither threatened nor opposed to my decision; we were and are, in this together. There will come a time when I can return to the career world- it will still be there, but my children will only be small for a short while.

    You pondered in your post “perhaps I am biased”. Maybe, but I tend to think perhaps you are young and naïve. I do not intend offense at that; it is my honest observation after reading your other posts. It is entirely reasonable and even expected that a young woman such as yourself would have the opinion you do. The collegiate environment is rich with ideals such as you profess. (And I am assuming you are a recent college grad) I was much like you less than ten years ago.

    You claim that you are looking out for the “best interests of your female counter-parts”. Sweet sister, I am not repressed, and I do not require anyone to look out for my best interests. By making a statement like that, not only are you implying that I cannot fend for myself, but you are dishonoring and disrespecting the choices that I have made. You have, in essence, put me in a box, just as you accuse society and men of doing. This is something I cannot and will not accept.

    One of the problems I have with modern “feminism” viewpoints is that I must conform to what the popular ideals are in order to be one. If I form my own opinion, and it differs from the accepted cannon, I am somehow misinformed or repressed. True feminism, or equality, is what allows me to form my own opinion, and make my own decisions with joy. I have read and subscribed to Ms. Magazine, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, Z, Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem and many others, yet I found myself less and less represented in their written word. In my opinion, modern feminism also often requires the subjugation and emasculation of men. Putting down a man does nothing to improve a woman’s status; it diminishes us all. As the mother of sons, this is impossible for me to abide. I am choosing to stay home and raise responsible, caring, compassionate, kind and loving men; the kind of men you might want your daughter to marry. If that is not contributing to society in a positive manner, I am at a loss for words. (and that doesn’t happen often)

    In your post, you wonder, when a woman is at home, what happens if her relationships should dissolve? What becomes of her identity? There are no guarantees in life; you know that. You cannot live in fear of what might happen. As a mother and wife, I love fiercely and deeply, and in the unlikely event of my marriage ending, I would be a better person for the time I have been here. I would pick up the pieces of my life and carry on. I still have my interests, my intelligence, my education, and I have hope. There are women who do live vicariously through their loved ones; however, most of us do not.

    There is no doubt that housework and caring for young children is repetitious; however the idea of my husband being my boss is absurd. Your ideas on being at home are astoundingly provincial and almost like something out of a 1950’s advertisement. They are not based in today’s real world, but more like a model out of an old homemaking text book. There are no allowances or accounting for time or money, not for me or for him. I know of no one whose husband comes home and expects a spotless house and tidy children and dinner on the table. My husband knows how crazy my days can be, and he is in this with me. We share the responsibilities. We do not keep track of who did what when. When you love someone, you give to them, as I am sure you do to your husband, and he to you. We are no different.

    I met my husband when I was 17, but he had to propose 3 times over ten years before I finally agreed to marry him. (How’s that for persistence?) Even after two kids, we are still madly in love. And, our boys will have a wonderful model of what a healthy relationship looks like. I am proud of that. I devoted most of my twenties to my career, and I don’t regret it. But for now, I have chosen another path, and it is a path that should be respected and honored, just as the women who choose otherwise should be respected. We do no one a favor when we tear each other apart for our differences. I have seen this issue from both sides, and both sides are just fine. In the future, please be kinder and gentler with your sisters who have chosen to raise their families themselves.

    If you feel that children are not right for you, it is certainly best that you do not have them. There is little worse than an unwanted child. And you and your husband are perfectly valiant to make that choice together.

    I hope some of what I have said will spur you to think on this topic a little more. You never know where your life will take you, and you just might be closer to me than you think.

    With Kind Regards
    Tracy M.”

    “Well, it seems I have stirred up a little bit of a firestorm with my letter. The original reply to my leter was an attempt at civility, but was somewhat strained. It seems that while Poco can understand why SAHM’s would be offended, she thinks what she describes as reality for us is not an illusion. Oh, the widsom of being 22 and knowing everything! When I was 22, I knew everything too! The funny thing is, I was A LOT like Poco when I was young. I read all the feminism and ‘progressive’ magazines and protested things I disagreed with. I was a coastal-Californian on-fire liberal, and if everyone could not see how right (sic) I was, then they were misinformed and needed to come around to my way of thinking; and I had the books, papers and academic studies to back me up.

    Ah, how time mellows all things! No longer do I claim to be the moral-authority for anyone else’s life, nor do I routinely share my opinions on things, as I have found that my point-of-view fluxes and changes. Perhaps because of all the soap-boxing I did as a younger woman, I am now uncomfortable claiming direction for anything but my own life. I cannot make statements claiming I will always feel a certain way, because I did that, and I dont feel that way anymore; I undermined my own authority!

    Lives change, circumstances change. The hill you are standing on won’t be the same hill you find yourself on as you walk furthur in life, and from a different hill, you see different things.”

  88. JeffC (no. 75) — thanks for your perspective!

  89. Yes, that was the very first blog post I ever wrote, on my personal blog, Dandelion Mama. It’s a snapshot into time, the woman I was, and yet even there, the seeds of the woman I would become. I wonder how it will be in seven or eight more years to look back on who I am now and see which seeds have come to fruition…

  90. “Even when that arrangement is entered into freely and jointly, there is an imbalance inherent in one person bringing in all of the financial means of support. I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back because someone else was providing them to me- even when done so freely and with all the grace in the world, it creates an imbalance. It was an imbalance I wasn’t even aware of until yesterday.”

    Credits and debits both show up on a ledger sheet, and the person bringing home the paycheck is not the only person who contributes to the household economy. I don’t draw a salary, but the choices I make about the goods and services necessary for our household— not only what *is* purchased, but what is *not* purchased — are as important to our financial security as my husband’s income. If a dollar saved is a dollar earned, then I’ve brought in many dollars over the years since I stopped bringing in a paycheck myself. (In all probability, any job I could feasibly take would not cover costs of the services and convenience goods necessary to make up for my absence from home.) When I pay our family bills every month, I feel a sense of personal investment and responsibility for those numbers.

  91. Totally agree with Rosalynde, except that her math is off: A dollar saved is two dollars earned, because it is neither taxed nor tithed. And if that sounds familiar, it comes from a BYU devotional talk by Sydney Smith Reynolds. I am sure that for a lot of people hearing her speak on the value of homemaking, it was “pushing the ideal blah-blah-blah.” To me, as a new convert who had never considered spending any time at home full-time, it was an insight into a different way of life. Hearing that talk, and meeting Ann Madsen and Sandra Covey, for the first time in my life I started to seriously consider being a mother at home.

    Comments like #74 drive me crazy, because we generally have no clue what goes on in other people’s houses. So do Stephanie Meyer’s neighbors think that she “doesn’t work” because they don’t see her dropping kids at daycare every morning? I resent like heck that people assume I don’t work just because I may not have a paid job. I sewed our toddlers’ training pants out of old garments. I sprout something almost every week. I grind wheat and bake. I carve a whole pork loin, producing lean chops at half the cost of store-bought. I have removed wallpaper and repainted. I work hard as a homemaker.

    Being at home with kids fulltime was one of the toughest jobs I ever had, and I have been a soldier, and in other settings had to make decisions that commit hundreds of thousands of dollars, with mistakes costing jobs. I learned a lot from my years at home, and my advisor in graduate school said that she would always take on a parent who had been at home, because she was so impressed with my organization skills.

    Plus, a lot of what I do as volunteer work is the same task as what people do for money. When we lived in Brasil, I taught a graduate seminar on preparing scientific manuscripts in English. The grades counted. It made a difference in their lives (I still remember the afternoon they came in from taking the TOEFL exam, and one person said, “I heard your voice in my head when I answered that question.”) But I wasn’t paid a centivo, because of the visa situation and also because it was our way of thanking the university for their support of my husband’s research. For years, I have edited an e-newsletter for a political group, and then recently I had to use the same e-marketing service at my paid job. Why is one “work” and the other not?

    As for YW leaders, we have all kinds, including singles and women who have been divorced. One YW president was a graduate student who had a baby during her PhD program. I am not sure that telling young women to delay marriage is any more valid than telling them to get married ASAP. All we can really tell them to do is have the courage to do what is best for them, and to seek the Spirit in all such decisions, and respect that others make different choices.

  92. Of course, Rosalynde- I fully understand that, and I think it’s an exchange most homemakers (myself included) are familiar with and have, to some degree, worked out.

    For me, the hard truth was, once I no longer had someone else bringing in the income, there was no one willing to exchanged those services I was so good at for enough of a wage to trade for rent or food. Even had I found someone willing to pay me for those services, it would not have been sufficient pay to take care of my family’s needs, let alone the childcare I myself would have had to procure, since in taking care of someone else’s children, I would not have been available for my own.

    That’s part of the imbalance I meant.

  93. At the risk of making virtually every commenter hate me …

    Despite all the credits and debits on the balance sheet, the account is still open until the end of the reporting period. You don’t get a very accurate picture of your profits and losses until that final accounting — just like most retail businesses look on paper like failures for the year until they get to Black Friday and the Christmas season. When do we make the final evaluation of life, and what is the measure of a successful or failed one? What are the tools and campaigns along the way that determine that end-of-life bottom line?

    The reality is that most women (all people, but this discussion is about women) are not going to be relatively high paid professionals with elite positions. For every lawyer who is bettering the world through public policy, there is a legion of women answering phones and making photocopies and filing papers and emptying wastebaskets. For every surgeon who is saving lives through education, skill, and intuition, there is a legion of women stocking pharmacy shelves, sterilizing instruments, making appointments, and emptying wastebaskets. For every professor who is shaping the scholarship of the next generation, there is a legion of women who … well, you know.

    The vast majority of us who work will be, by statistical and aptitudinal necessity, among the lower ranks. Some of those ranks pay sufficiently well, and the better paying ones usually require substantial education. Few of them, even the better paying ones, likely are intellectually and emotionally satisfying, with the paycheck being the primary or only reward — so it’s better to have a bigger paycheck than a smaller one, and to get the education to make that happen. If Tracy’s first paycheck was relatively small, if it covered this month’s bill without also providing savings for future emergencies, future luxuries, her children’s future education, and without the promise of increasing the paycheck through her ongoing education, the novelty of providing for her current needs would quickly wear off, and the future would look less rosy than the present.

    I doubt many if any of us will reach life’s final accounting and think we had a profitable life if all we can say is that we made deputy director of the company’s Midwest division — no matter how much education that position called for, or how much money we brought home. Except for a vanishingly small number whose professional lives made an astounding difference in the world, the measure of success is going to be the achievements of our personal lives, especially centered around our families.

    It does take money to raise children. Marriage wouldn’t be successful and families wouldn’t be rewarding if we could only focus on the fear of where tomorrow’s meal would come from, or if we couldn’t do much nurturing because we had to work three jobs emptying those wastebaskets and caring for other people’s children.

    It’s not an either/or of marriage and family/education and income — I recognize nobody is really saying that. And I’m probably overreacting to unintentional hints from some commenters that education and employment ought to take priority (whether in timing, resources, or respect) over marriage and family. But speaking as someone whose life is all work and zero family, I’m warning you: Don’t put such an emphasis on education and employment and income that family takes a second place at any point of your lives. Ever.

    And as usual, I apologize for the length of this comment.

  94. Thank you, Ardis. I appreciate your point of view, and you make some very good points. It’s true, if I continue to live paycheck to paycheck, the novelty would wear thin quickly. Part of why this felt like such an amazing victory is because of how long and difficult it was to get here, coupled with the hope that there is more to come. In addition, and it’s a very important edition- the impetus for all this, all along, has been the ability to take care of my children and have a some joy in life.

  95. Ardis,
    You said beautifully what is the core of my feelings on the subject of career and family and the gospel. I feel that way for both men and women. There is far too much emphasis on career, especially for men, but more and more for women as well.

    I am continually teaching both in the financial management High School class I teach and at church whenever I can, that you should spend less so that you can work less so that therefore you can have more time for family and for truly living. I am swimming upstream though as we work more to spend more. As wordsworth said “the world is too much with us late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our power”

  96. Anonymous for This says:

    “But speaking as someone whose life is all work and zero family, I’m warning you: Don’t put such an emphasis on education and employment and income that family takes a second place at any point of your lives. Ever.”

    I would do just about anything in the world to convince my otherwise wonderful, charming, kind, very excessively hardworking husband of the truth of this statement. :(

  97. I am a current graduate student, and like you Tracy, I had people telling me that Grad school would make it much less likely that I would get married…that with a BS, I had ‘enough’ education for a woman. I think this is a lot more common an attitude than people might imagine. And that is unfortunate.

    What is more unfortunate is that, at least in my experience, it is based in truth. My boyfriend broke up with me when he found out I was serious about continuing my education because he “wouldn’t be comfortable married to someone who was more educated.” It’s not like I was unwilling to compromise either…my original plan was to apply to where ever had a good program in my area of study, but when we started getting serious I limited my applications to places with in driving distance of his job. When I told people about why he broke up with me, the general reaction was, “well what did you expect?” Suuuper frustrating!

  98. To Naismith and Rosalynde: At one point during the Pants debate, I saw a wonderful post going around in response to all the women saying they “didn’t feel unequal” in the church- the point was that “equality is not a feeling.” It as an observable external reality. Well, along the same lines, dependence is not a feeling. A SAHM saying she doesn’t “feel” dependent on her husband… well. It’s nice that you aren’t distressed by feeling dependent, and I’m sure it’s lovely that you’re able to save so much money.

    But dependence is not a feeling. If you, personally, do not earn enough money to pay the mortgage or rent to secure the roof over your head, to buy the groceries to feed yourself, to make sure you are clothed and able to buy gas/bus pass to go where you need to go- if that money does not come in a paycheck with YOUR name on it- then you are dependent. A SAHM may well be resilient and competent and if her husband’s income were cut off she may well be able to find a way to support herself, but she would be badly hampered in that effort by a lack of experience in the formal economy and a large gap on her resume. And if you have a degree from back before you had kids 20 years ago… well, it will give you a leg up over just having a HS diploma, but you absolutely will not have the same opportunities open to you that would have been open right after you got that degree. An unused degree declines in value drastically.

    There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be dependent if that is truly important to you, and the things SAHMs do are valuable. But YOU ARE DEPENDENT. Please don’t try to tell me that someone who lives off another person’s income is not dependent, and that that does not create a very real imbalance in power and opportunities. It does. A SAHM may have a wonderful marriage to a husband who appreciates her contributions and would do everything he can to keep her from feeling that imbalance and who truly gives her an equal voice in decision making, but she has that “feeling” of equality as a gift, at sufferance. She has voluntarily hamstrung her ability to support herself in order to take on a supporting role- that’s fine and may even be noble, but it IS an imbalance. I would like it if people at church who talk about a woman’s role at least had the honesty to admit to that.

    I am very, very, very tired of people at church bragging about how much the church support’s women’s education, only to make it *crystal* clear to girls that actually using that education is unthinkable.

  99. ^^^^ yes.

  100. Justine, I agree with every word of your comment (and appreciate how articulately you said it) – except for the implication that a couple choosing to construct a “traditional” marriage of paid employment for the husband and non-paid work in the home for the wife are constructing a lead role and a supporting role – and that it is a matter of honesty if people don’t see it that way. In actuality, when done with the right attitude and teamwork, they are creating co-lead roles and co-supporting roles as part of providing in multiple ways for a family that includes children. Spouses in a “traditional marriage” (I actually hate that term.) can, in practical terms, be totally honest in their belief that there is not an “imbalance” in their relationship. People who see it differently than you generally aren’t being dishonest; they just are seeing it differently.

    That’s an important distinction to me – again, even as I agree with everything else you say in your comment.

    Finally, financially, the non-paid role IS dependent on the paid role (and that’s vital to recognize and admit), but so is any paid role that gets paid less than another paid role and not enough to pay the bills. It’s not the existence of dependency that is different in those two situations; it’s the degree of dependency. (and degree is important in the context of this post) There is a difference between being dependent in a relationship and being equal in every way – and every good family relationship is going to have elements of specific dependency within an attempt at overall equality.

  101. Justine,
    So true. And I say that has a SAHM. I am entirely dependent on my husband. Thanks for saying it how it is. It’s pure economics.

  102. Actually, I have no problem admitting that I was dependent on my husband for finances…but he was just as dependent on me. There is no way he could have done the job he loved without me, and while his name might be on a paycheck, without me that check wouldn’t cover all his needs or pay for childcare. And the benefit of a wife’s contribution is even more clear in the case of my sister, whose husband’s position as a corporate VP was dependent on his wife’s role as a gracious hostess, serving dinners at their home or flying with clients in the corporate jet to the hunting lodge in Wisconsin or condo in Florida.

    In the first edition of Jane Brant Quinn’s personal finance book, she suggested that no life insurance was needed for a non-earning spouse. She changed that advice in later editions, after getting lots of letters that included some very sad stories of people who were in deep trouble after the loss of their “non-working” spouse. And while I tend to agree that there should be some income into the home, Shannon Hayes’ book “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” includes some stories of women who were divorced and did not have a regular job.

    Please don’t try to tell ME that my marriage suffers from an imbalance of power and opportunities. We are equal partners. And yes, I can compare the difference with a “working” mother, because a paycheck with my name on it has been enough to support our family, for more than a dozen years. That changed absolutely nothing about the power dynamic or the way money was spent in our family. And if equality is merely a “gift” that my husband bestowed, that implies that it doesn’t matter at all how many hours I spend researching insurance, juggling the budget, planning vacations, and all the other homemaking tasks that I do. Fortunately, my husband recognized my work, and that is what matters. We both work hard, as a team.

  103. Ray- that hypothetical couple may indeed feel that there is no imbalance in their relationship at all. But I repeat: dependence is not a feeling. When a wife agrees to that relationship, she is agreeing to give up her ability to support herself. Fair enough that this may not be a “supporting” role, and they can define that for themselves. Nevertheless, if the husband walks out tomorrow, she can’t support herself. She doesn’t have an income. She has important and worthwhile skills that nevertheless have almost zero market value, and finds herself entering the workforce at wages generally paid to 20 year olds (assuming she can manage to enter it at all, without going back to school first). If her husband leaves her, her standard of living plummets, she is likely to lose her health care or be on medicaid, she is likely to need basic food assistance from the state or the church or another charity, she has to have the experience of quite literally not knowing how she can keep a roof over her head. If she leaves her husband? He has to shop around for cheap daycare.

    This is an imbalance. A serious power imbalance that is conducive to abuse and coercion. That is not a matter of feelings, and denying that fact is dishonesty.

    I do take your point that in two earner families, each alone may not earn enough to pay the bills themselves, and that there is such a thing as mutual dependency.

  104. Justine, again, you are preaching to the choir in your comment to me. If you reread what I wrote, I hope you can see that, again, I don’t disagree with your last comment – except the paragraph about dishonesty.

    Frankly, there is no greater guarantee of rancor and dismissal than telling someone they are being dishonest when, in fact and in their own minds, they are being totally and completely honest. Dishonesty is not the same thing as ignorance OR difference of perspective and opinion – and that is an important distinction in all discussions, much less one as emotionally charged as this one.

  105. Naismith- I’m not trying to tell you anything about your marriage. I realize it sounded that way, which is why my comment got kind of awkward talking about “a SAHM” in the abstract. I’m sorry.

    I’m glad that earning your own paycheck didn’t change anything about the dynamic of your marriage. The fact that you were treated completely equally as a SAHM is nice… and it’s entirely due to your husband’s good behavior. It’s nice that your husband recognizes the work you did at home. But… what if he hadn’t?

    I’m not saying that any given woman who is a SAHM is abused or even treated unequally. I am saying that she is in a position lacking in power. And as long as you’re lacking in power, the fact that you’re treated well is a pretty gift, not something you can secure for yourself. If you honestly think that, during the years that you weren’t earning and he was, that it would have truly been just as economically crippling for him if you left him as would have been the case vice-versa…. well, honestly, I don’t believe that. And all the stats about the economic effects of divorce back me up.

  106. Ray- Fair enough. I think that’s denial, but it may indeed be honest.

  107. Naismith,
    In your instances you may depend on one another, but wives are still by and large do not choose where to live, for instance. It is all dependent on the career choice of her husband. Your sister plays hostess because of his career. It isn’t a choice she made, it is the circumstance of the career choices he made. You can argue she chose to marry him and stay married and support him in his career. But it’s still an imbalance of power. If he chooses to move across the country and she doesn’t want to, the wife is dependent on his job and where he goes off to. You can be perfectly happy with this arrangement, but to say there isn’t an imbalance flies in the face of reality. A man could hire a woman to host his dinner parties for him. She can’t just go get another job.

  108. MMiles- exactly. That’s an incredibly valuable supporting role, which carries no actual power with it no matter how appreciated it is.

  109. “If you honestly think that, during the years that you weren’t earning and he was, that it would have truly been just as economically crippling for him if you left him as would have been the case vice-versa…. well, honestly, I don’t believe that.”

    Well, obviously, you can believe what you want; nothing I say will change your mind, and apparently you know better than I do what was going on. But in fact, one reason my husband’s career has been so successful is that we were willing to go overseas on sabbatical, where he had a critical research breakthrough. None of the other scientists who had priority ahead of him for that opportunity could make the move for half a year, because their spouses were employed; they couldn’t leave their jobs and they needed their partner to help with the childcare. So my husband went, and got an accelerated promotion and became president of national organizations. That is a “gift” that I gave to him. He could not have done it without me, as those others could not. Sound like power to me.

    “…wives are still by and large do not choose where to live, for instance.”

    Hmmn, better tell that to President Eyring. In last conference he noted, “My wife… had a strong impression that we were not to leave Ricks College. I said, ‘That’s good enough for me.'”

    Like most couples, we would never make a move without agreeing together. When I was thinking of returning to grad school when our youngest started kindergarten, we only considered jobs for him in areas with a grad program in my field.

    If there are concerns about these issues, there is no problem with a prenuptial (or even postnuptial) agreement to make it clear what rights the partners have.

    I agree with much of what has been written here about women and education, obviously, because I have returned to the paid workforce now that my children are older, both for the satisfaction of the work and the retirement savings. I just don’t buy the inevitability of imbalance or lack of power.

  110. The Proclamation on the Family states that when one spouse can’t perform their traditional role, then other spouse has needs to do it. Well, if the woman is not educated and prepared to provide a secure living for her family just as well as her husband, then she can’t do what the Proclamation says she’s supposed to do. Both spouses need to be as prepared as possible.

  111. Jill, obviously, I agree with your comment, but the Proclamation says that each couple should work as an equal partnership and adapt the traditional roles to their own circumstances and needs. As written, it’s open enough to accommodate just about any arrangement individual couples want to construct – including two incomes and stay-at-home fathers.

    In that regard, the Proclamation is much more progressive than many church members, including many female and male leaders.

  112. P.S. And in today’s society women can’t keep their skills current if they stay out of the work force continuously for years on end. Keeping one foot in the working door at least a couple days a week can be a good thing.

  113. Ray, I totally agree. It’s very progressive.

  114. It’s very progressive . . . except for that whole “preside” thing, which is quite retrogressive . . .

    (Apologies for barging in on your conversation.)

  115. Naismith, can you try to keep this at the level of analyzing the aggregate and not keep making it all about you. Folks are trying to talk about the prevailing patterns, not your marriage. It’s rude to put words in their mouth saying they’re talking about you personally. And it does diddly squat to advance the discussion of prevailing patterns in the data for you to talk about one anecdote (your own). Your life is great, congratulations. Is that the prevailing pattern on average for all women nationwide, or not? That’s the question.

  116. hkobeal, I said, “as written . . . in that regard . . .”

  117. #98 Jessica: I have been there and it was frustrating. Before med school I dated several guys who didn’t think I was serious about going to med school. When they found out I was really set on going, come hell or high water. . . . well, you can guess what happened. (and I didn’t even go to BYU, just lived in UT.) Right before applying to med school I fell hard for a really great guy, a law student at BYU, (who, by the way, had a female classmate that was told by a male classmate that she shouldn’t be there because she was taking a spot that should have gone to a man that needed to support his family- this was 2003). Mr BYU Law was a great guy, I might have given up med school for him, but never had to to make that choice because he broke it off. He couldn’t envision being married to a med student/resident physician and the sacrifices that come with that. HE also didn’t want to make me choose between him and med school.
    Fast forward to med school, I dated a fellow mormon classmate for quite a while. But that didn’t work out either. Why? not too much education, just the wrong kind. It would have been fine with him (and his mom/family) if I was a graduate student getting a masters in music (not that there is anything wrong with that if that is what you are good at and what you love), but a medical degree with the demanding schedule and nearly inevitable future career. . . . it’s just not something our mormon culture is very accepting of. (Also, i don’t think that he liked that i scored higher on tests than he did)
    I found that in much of the Utah culture or even somewhat in the broader LDS culture (now having lived elsewhere), that women are encouraged to develop their talents, as long as those talents are closely tied to homemaking skills or musical talents that can be shared at church. No doubt, I am exaggerating. But that is the reality of how it feels to be in that situation, trying to date mormon guys who make you feel like your not good enough because you are too smart or too ambitious- you have dreams of your own that involve something in addition to having a family. I don’t know if it threatens their masculinity, or just their idea of the “proper roles” for women and men. I must confess, I never had a notion of “proper roles” as I had a sometimes SAHD and a mom in high powered corporate positions. They encouraged me to develop my real talents and encouraged high achievement from their daughters and sons.
    Not that graduate school is the only acceptable path, my brilliant younger sister recently got married and has decided after graduating w/ a BS in physics that she doesn’t want to go to graduate school, and would rather enter the career market while her husband finishes undergrad.
    I think that the problem lies in thinking that our way is the best way, most people are guilty of it, i know I am. WE just have to remember that we are a religion that believes in personal revelation. While sister so and so may have 4 kids by the time she’s my age and I have none, doesn’t mean I’m not following God’s plan. I am, I’m just following God’s plan for me, not his plan for anyone else. And I shouldn’t think that my way is any better than sister so and so’s, it’s not. THough in agreement with the original post, I do hope that she has some education/career training that will help her provide for her kids if she needs to. WE need a cultural shift, more than lip service to getting a good education, no more well meaining people telling women to stop pursuing too much education, or that they can pretty much expect to be dumped if they insist on pursuing their dreams.
    Well, lest you think that I am a bitter spinster physician, let me tell you the so far happy continuation of my story.
    I fell in love with a different classmate in medical school. He was not and is not an active member of the church. But I was tired of dating peter priesthood types who always saw me as not good enough because I wanted something more than to just be their wife. So I started dating W, and he was ( and still is) wonderful. I couldn’t imagine continuing my life without him. He didn’t love me in spite of my goals, he loves me more because of them. He was happy to make our career plans together. He is not intimidated by my degree, my ambition or anything about me really.
    We are equals, whoever is home to make dinner makes dinner, whoever sees that the dishes or laundry need washing does it etc, He even expects me to take turns mowing the lawn if it’s sunny on my day off.
    If ever there was something close to a perfect marriage, I think I have it.
    So Jessica good luck in graduate school, continue to pursue your goals and dreams and don’t listen to the naysayers,
    There is a W out there for you (maybe even still active in the church).

  118. Naismith- it sounds like your husband had a wonderful opportunity and that your support was very valuable to him and to your family. I’m glad. (Query if he would have had the same opportunity if he were single without kids. Sounds like he would have, though maybe the social factors would have been different.) It seems like you think I’m saying that you don’t provide anything of value to your family, though I’ve tried very hard to say several times that these contributions are valuable.

    But what would have happened if your husband had gone overseas, made his breakthrough, come back with the feather i his cap, and promptly became abusive to you or left you? It sounds like he would have gotten amazing economic value from your gift (as you put it), while you would have been seriously economically worse off than those wives who refused to move due to their careers.

    All your examples are of women who have decision making influence due to the goodness of their husbands. For example, your quote from President Eyering also describes a woman who had influence over the most basic aspect of her life (where to live) only because her husband thought it was morally good to listen to someone who otherwise had no real power. I wonder if you have any thoughts that address my repeated question of “but what if the husband were not like that?”

  119. Well said, Justine.

  120. Exactly, Justine.

  121. ^^^^ yes, Justine. Exactly.

  122. And yet … having the power to make all your own decisions isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. An untethered kite certainly looks free, but it’s not going to soar as high or stay up as long as one that is locked into a cooperative (you might call it dependent) relationship.

    I’ve never been in Naismith’s shoes, but I see her viewpoint as valid. Your ideology doesn’t trump her experience.

  123. It is sad that attitudes still exist today mentioned in the article : like taking a spot away from a man who has to support a family, if a woman is educated she won’t get married etc.
    I agree with everything said in the article. Today in most families it takes both husband and wife to support a household. Most careers don’t pay enough for just the man to work. It was sad to see my husband’s niece in a hurry to marry and not at all interested in higher education (they are LDS). Both the niece and her husband have no college degree of any kind (but his parents support them very well – must be nice; I have never had that luxury).
    I wonder if the SLC leaders really know if what they say regarding marriage and education for women is conflicting?

  124. Sorry, forgot something. @118 Chris: You are not exaggerating about talents being tied to homemaking stuff regarding the church. We do need a culture shift. We do need to use personal revelation to guide our lives and to help us decide what is right for us! Good for you for sticking to your guns. Agreed with all you said as well as many others. As a side note I have had better luck with female doctors versus male doctors.

  125. Ardis–I’m not sure anyone is saying that having the power to make your own decisions is the supreme goal; what I got from Justine’s response to Naismith was caution about dependence that is not mutual. If your husband can make choices that will be financially devastating to you, but you have no similar ability to impact his lifestyle, you’re dependent in a potentially dangerous way. We all (well, most of us, I think) would prefer to be in a partnership, especially if it works as well as the one Naismith describes. The reality, though, is that such partnerships are rare, and it makes sense to try to structurally mitigate the risks instead of (or at least as well as) relying on the good will of the more powerful partner.

    But maybe I’m misunderstanding.

  126. I see Naismith saying that she and her husband ARE mutually dependent (interdependent) economically, and I see Justine and others saying that Naismith’s model doesn’t matter because it doesn’t allow — to play with your phrase — mutually assured financial destruction, er, impact. Naismith’s experience (and the experience I saw in my own parents’ marriage, and the model I expect I would have adopted) works. I see it being rejected here (which is fine, except I think you’re all also piling on Naismith for defending it) not because it doesn’t work, but because it doesn’t fit a narrow ideological requirement of limiting economic power to a paycheck.

    I don’t want to argue with you all, so I’ve tried to tread carefully and limit my comments. But I reject your equating economic power with a paycheck, and think you’re being narrowminded in refusing to acknowledge other forms of economic contribution and power. (“You” being general, and not especially Kristine.)

  127. Kristine, I think such partnerships are not rare, but they do require a great deal of emotional work from both people (more than the two-paycheck model) and a great deal of trust. I think if you’re going to have that kind of partnership, you need to enter into it with a great deal of care. I also want to second Ardis’s most excellent comment WAY above, about how work really is just work most of the time, and the rush from paying your bills lasts until about the first time you can’t.

  128. Everyone, the bottom line, emotions and ideal situations aside, that a woman who has been out of the workforce for years and who lacks education is at a decided disadvantage should the life she built (cooperatively and joyfully) with her husband be dissolved- be it through divorce or death or whatever. That’s just a simple fact. Period.

    If she died, divorced, or whatever, the chances are he could hire someone to do what she does. His life would change and it would likely be devastating in a myriad of ways, but he would not LOOSE HIS HOUSE BECAUSE HE CAN’T GET A JOB.

    That’s the difference.

    And, I say that with some authority, dammit.

    I have been in the shoes of a cared-for dependent homemaker with small children. It’s hard at times, it’s work (no one is saying otherwise) and it has value. But…. I have also been cast out and lost my home when my ex-husband made choices that no longer allowed us to keep that mutually dependent relationship.

    A woman with young children who as chosen to stay home is statistically (and in every very real way) at a perilous disadvantage when she finds herself single again, out of the workforce for a decade, and caring for young children. Those are just the brass tacks, folks. We can argue all day about how perfect the ideal is, how wonderful the the domestic work a woman does is, how much her contributions cannot be undervalued… but the bottom line is, A WOMAN CANNOT NOT PAY THE MORTGAGE with her fine home-making skills- no matter how much money she has saved the family over the years in frugal management of their funds or in creative meal preparation.

    Thanks for participating, everyone.

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