There is much good news for BYU in the massive longitudinal study on college attendance and income that came out in January. The study looks at millions of 2014 tax records that have been matched to tuition records from the late 1990s, in effect giving us income profiles for people who were born between 1980 and 1982.
The main purpose of the study is to examine mobility rates—and to determine which colleges do the best job of taking students from the bottom income quartile and launching them into the top bracket. BYU does not do very well here. But neither does anybody else. It turns out that US colleges are, as a group, pretty lousy at facilitating class mobility.
But in other areas of the study, BYU-P does extremely well. By their mid-30s, people who attended BYU (and the study measures only attendance, not graduation) can expect to be earning a median income of almost $72,000 a year and to be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of society.
Well, some people at least. The male ones. Women who attended during the same time period made a median salary of $800 a year.
Yep, you read that correctly. $800 per year placing BYU-P in dead last place among 2013 schools in income disparity, with a whopping 8887% difference between men and women. At BYU-I, women still make the same $800 a year after leaving, but smaller salaries by men bring the disparity down to a mere 7000% or so. And at BYU-H, the difference gets down to the low three-digits (236%).
You can see the full list here, but the bottom 14 should look terribly familiar, as 50% of them either come from the state of Utah or are BYU-I. And in fact, BYU-P’s male-to-female salary ratio is more than 10 times more disproportionate than its closest non-Utah competitor. The bottom of the barrel, at least in the category of gender parity in income, would be a lofty aspirational goal.
So, what is going on? Clearly this study is not measuring the actual earning potential of women who attend, or graduate from the BYUs. It is, rather, measuring the fact that many Mormon women choose to stay home in their 30s. We already knew this, so why even bother mentioning a study that is only going to capture a well-known sociological phenomenon?
But lifestyle choices can be at least partially accounted for in the study. In fact, the published data sets give us a category called “zero income” for both men and women—and then it allows us to factor those in this category out entirely and only compare the incomes of women (and men) who are in the workforce. Here again, the BYUs are outliers even among the outliers, with 46 (I) and 46.5 (P) percent of female alumnae out of the workforce entirely–more than five percentage points higher than whoever comes in third (and it is Southern Virginia University, just by the way).
Once we factor out all of the women who are out of the work force from the equation, the disparity percentages drop precipitously. But the relative position of men and women who have attended BYU changes very little. Instead of being dead-last and dead-second-to-the last, BYU-P comes in at 2111 (third-do-last) and BYU-I comes in at 2112 (second to last). Kiamichi Technology Centers, a vocational-technical school in Oklahoma, manages to squeak in for the win. Again, the full list is here, but the bottom fourteen are below:
The “so, what’s going on here?” question is harder to answer this time, largely because there is a lot that the data does not tell us. We can’t say, for example, what percentage of men or women are working part time or in non-traditional careers. Nor can we tell what students in the sample studied in college, and we know that a lot of the majors that disproportionately attract women (English, music, elementary education) pay less well than a lot of the majors that disproportionately attract men (engineering, computer science, accounting).
But this is true of just about every college in the country, as is the general fact that 34-year-old-women–Mormon or otherwise–often have more child-rearing responsibilities then men and choose careers accordingly. Most schools, then, have disparities between nonzero incomes of around 50-75%, with 100% differences not at all out of the ordinary.
But even in a national environment with huge wage gaps between men and women, the BYUs and other Utah-based schools come up consistently and aggressively at the bottom of the pile. Lots of factors could account for this, not all of which involve rampant misogyny and unchecked privilege. But some of the possible versions of the story do involve rampant misogyny and unchecked privilege, and (to me at least) these are disturbing enough that I think we ought to at least ask some mildly uncomfortable and culturally difficult questions.
Like maybe these:
- Does Mormon culture view women’s labor as less valuable than men’s labor?
- Does the typical Mormon rhetoric about the vital importance of women’s labor in the home translate into valuing that labor in tangible ways?
- Are Mormon women taught to see their labor–inside and outside of the home–as intrinsically valuable?
- Does the Mormon emphasis on women staying home with children translate into an understanding that, if women do choose to work, they should limit themselves to jobs with low pay and low prestige?
- When Mormon women enter the workforce–either for their own professional fulfillment or out of financial necessity–are they at a disadvantage compared to other women?
- What are we teaching our daughters about the social value of what they do?
I am certainly not suggesting that we change our theology or or cultural practices on account of a single snapshot survey. But data like this raises important questions that we, as a culture that claims to value women highly, have a responsibility to at least try to answer.