Minding the Gap: What a New Study Tells Us about Mormon Women in the Workplace


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.





  1. What are we teaching our daughters about the social value of what they do?

    Over and over again the message is that our daughters should eschew social value for spiritual value. That is one of the biggest take home messages from YW and RS.

  2. While I agree with the thesis that we don’t value women’s work enough especially in Utah I’m not sure this methodology is good. The main problem is that many women in the workplace even though no longer stay at home moms often are still tied to that function. Thus they are working part time or in temporary jobs rather than pursuing a career track. That means that the figures will be hugely biased towards lower income.

    That’s not to say in the least that there’s not a problem with paying women in Utah enough or allowing them access to the best jobs. I’ve heard enough horror stories of women seeking for work that I know it’s a problem. I just don’t think this necessarily tells us much about that problem.

  3. Mikayla Thatcher says:

    I don’t think we are taught to SEEK low-pay and low-prestige jobs. I just think that we’re taught to seek years at home with children as an ideal, years from which we emerge with zero career momentum (if we ever took the time to develop any career momentum).

    In my opinion, we are taught that our labor inside the home is intrinsically valuable, but not that our work outside the home has value. Church service is the exception.

    I earned a PhD in Physiology at BYU. While I regard it an important step in my life, two years later I’m looking forward to completing a real graduate degree in a place where my professor won’t tell me he doesn’t know how to work with someone who is getting a doctorate “just because.”

  4. “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?”

    Yes. Or at least for me and my generations (born 1970s). I started working at age 12 and except for a mission and one semester in college where I just couldn’t find a job that fit, I have never stopped. I also had a bunch of babies, a spouse, a house, etc. So what I always told myself was that it was okay to have a job. We needed the money and clearly I was sacrificing to have the employment. But having a career for me would be sinful. Aspiring at all professionally would be sinful. So as long as I stuck to something where I made money but wasn’t pushing my own abilities on anyone or being too much of a leader, then I was okay in the sight of God and the church.

    I am embarrassed now to admit this, but I would go through this logic in my head whenever the topic of woman at work (always portrayed as a negative) came up at church. “I’m not a sinner. I don’t like what I do. It’s just a job, not a career!” What a total waste… It did work out for me though as my little non-career turned nicely into one. I’m not even sure I’d want anything to be different other than how much I beat up on myself about the importance of not aspiring.

    And I’ll add to that, looking back I wonder if there wasn’t an element of not wanting out do my spouse. That somehow if had a successful career, he’d been seen or feel as less because he had a ‘right’ to be more successful than me. Again, embarrassing to admit, but I think that was in a more subconscious part of my brain as well.

  5. One flaw of the study is a traditional feminist chestnut: discounting the value of so-called “women’s work” outside of the career economy, such as childcare at home. If only there were a way to factor in the savings from a parent (father or mother) staying at home—versus working and paying for ever-more-expensive childcare—it amount to a full salary in some cases.

  6. “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?”

    Yes. Any lessons I received in YWs (and frankly, in college) that involved women working were always about having a job, you know, to make money to live on (as a last resort). They were never about having a career, something you were good at and enjoyed and pursued.

    Also, there was a serious lack of realism in the way I was taught about the usefulness of a college degree. While my leaders would insist that “education is encouraged,” they made it clear that it was good to get a college degree “so you have something to fall back on and can get a job in ten years if you get divorced or your husband dies.” There was never any understanding of the fact that a ten-year-old college degree with no intervening work experience is almost worthless to employers, that consistent work history matters a great deal more, that you should choose a degree that was marketable, not just “any degree for the sake of having a degree.”

    I turned out ok, financially and otherwise, but it was largely because I did the opposite of what I was counseled to do my whole life.

  7. MH: I don’t think the relationship would be linear at all, though. Obviously the added value of childcare for very small children is higher than that for older, somewhat more autonomous children–and it’s very low indeed once kids get to middle school age or so. (The exception is serving as a chauffeur to and from activities, which is an unfortunate byproduct of bad urban planning and the sort of stranger-danger paranoia that has effectively robbed children of mobility until age 16.)

  8. I think something to consider here is that a lot of women who do enter the workforce may be doing part-time work (e.g. private music lessons or even MLM stuff). So while filtering out people with zero income helps with the analysis, I’d be curious how much the results are being skewed by the near-zero income group. This probably includes a lot of people who are mostly entering the workforce part-time for some kind of fulfillment rather than income.

    In other words, if you compare only full time workers, I’m sure the gap decreases significantly. It makes sense to me that a sociological group that has a disproportionate number of stay at home moms with no income would have a disproportionate number of stay at home moms doing some part-time work on the side. Then the rest of the gap is probably mostly explainable by the usual suspects (education, years of experience, field, etc).

  9. kevin,
    I agree with you that a large portion of the gap comes from women who are working part time in especially low paying fields such as private music lessons and MLMs. However, this portion of the gap to me is the MOST IMPORTANT portion. Why is it in Mormon culture that college educated women are spending so much of their time and energy working in fields that pay less than minimum wage? MLMs often pay less than $0! In my experience it is because we are told that it is only ok to work for pay in certain fields. Women are encouraged to get an education, but not encouraged to use it. We are encouraged to not put our children in the care of others which means we often feel that any work done in a traditional setting is wrong. We are encouraged to pursue “feminine” interests which translates to music lessons or online etsy shops or selling MLM style weight loss products, clothing, kitchen items, or crafts. This is the portion of the wage gap that Mormon culture most affects and that can be fixed by changes to the culture.

  10. I recently saw an excellent Mormon movie on Netflix called Singing with Angels about how it’s OK for Mormon women to work for money when your kids are in high school and SPOILER your husband is dead.

  11. I want to mention as well that women are often at a severe disadvantage in professional fields to men with stay at home wives. There is absolutely no way I can spend as much time working as the men in my very conservative, very male dominated, Utah field. Every man I work with has a stay at home wife who takes care of kids when they are sick, who picks up the kids from school and takes care of them every night while they work 80 hours a week, who can be home for repairs and deliveries and other home needs, who can shovel the snow in the winter so their husbands can leave for work and not have to worry about it. No matter how much time I put into my career I just don’t have the same amount of time as my male colleagues. A man with my same skill and work ethic will be promoted faster (even before considering gender bias in those making the promotion decisions) and be able to get more work done just because someone else is taking care of everything at home for him. This is a problem I don’t have any suggestions to fix. :(

    I’ll also add a resounding YES to the women who say that our Mormon culture encourages women who do work to work in lower paying a less prestigious fields. When was the last time you heard a conference talk that talked positively about a woman working that wasn’t in a lower paying field like nursing or elementary education instead of higher paying but equally flexible fields of medicine or higher education?

  12. SPECULATION/ANECDOTE ALERT: Another angle on this story that people don’t talk about as much (as the standard married homemaker deal) are the women who don’t get marketable skills precisely because they are expecting to be a SAHM. Even if they don’t get married, they are left with a degree in music in a job market that has become very unforgiving for generic degrees. I’d be willing to bet that the gender gap in music, literature, and sociology majors at BYU is huge. For men there’s the expectation that you have to provide for a bevy of children and a dependent spouse within ten years of graduating, so there’s a lot of pressure to go into accounting, engineering, or pre-med, which are high sought after degrees at BYU (and elsewhere). If I ever have a daughter, I’m making her learn how to weld.

  13. EBK: that’s a huge point. Even men who have more egalitarian attitudes about housework and child-rearing are at a pretty significant disadvantage.

    If your male colleagues had wives who worked outside the home, or even stay-at-home wives who expected them to do more than just read a bedtime story to the kids, they wouldn’t be quite so willing to put in 80 hours/week.

  14. RRobinson says:

    MH says “If only there were a way to factor in the savings from a parent (father or mother) staying at home—versus working and paying for ever-more-expensive childcare—it amount to a full salary in some cases.”

    This is an important point–and savings on child care is probably not the only value that could or should be factored in to such a calculation, though it’s probably the easiest (and it is not actually easy at all).

    Kevin correctly notes that very small-income side jobs performed by SAHMs, like music lessons and MLM stuff, are likely also skewing the results. A comparison of only full-time workers would eliminate this bias, but would still not actually answer Michael’s questions about why the income gap is so much greater among those who went to LDS-affiliated/Utah universities.

    Like others, I am uneasy about the premise of a simple income-based analysis like this, but I think Michael is as well. As he notes, homemaking and child care fall disproportionately on women throughout the country, and yet the gender wage gap between Utah and Mormon-affiliated universities is still way down at the bottom of the list. It’s worth asking why, if only to uncover the other economic factors that are relevant to the issue so that a more rigorous analysis can be constructed. I’m not satisfied with merely assuming that accounting for such factors would balance out the ledger. I want data, which means asking questions. And some of those questions will be culturally discomfiting.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    I wonder if there haven’t been some significant demographic shifts since the late 1990s. E.g., since that time the majority of graduates have shifted to be single.

  16. Anon for this says:

    I thought it was interesting in this story A family story: UVU President Matt Holland staying true to his roots, it talks about all the accomplishments of Elder Holland’s sons, but says this about his daughter Mary, “earned a degree in English and lacks only her dissertation to complete a master’s degree.She set aside her academic interests to support her husband during the nearly two decades he studied medicine (he is a heart surgeon).” So the men go out and change the world, and their wives ‘support’ them.

    I think that’s fairly representative of what women of my generation were encouraged to do, attend college long enough to get married, then put aside their interests in favor of her husband’s career. We were told by President Benson scary stories of divorces caused by women leaving the home to work. President Hinckley said this, “I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries.” So it was a bit of whiplash (and anger, to be frank) to see profiles of women who had exciting and meaningful careers splashed all over the ‘I’m a Mormon’ website.

  17. I would also add that girls weren’t (aren’t) encouraged AT ALL to excel in math and science, but rather in the “softer” fields (English, music, child development), and any lack in these fields is glossed over because a SAHM won’t need that, right? Sometimes it’s relatively subtle — like my friend who said to me, when we announced our second child would be a boy, that boys were great because you could buy them really cool toys like Legos, building toys, etc… I mumbled something about how we’d already bought a bunch of them for our daughter, but… you know, the boy is now two and he has received more blocks and racetracks as presents than my daughter ever did. This is a general US culture thing, of course (a quite non-religious engineer I work with has complained to me about his middle-school daughter (who is quite gifted in math!) learning to say from her friends that “math is hard!”), but I think it’s worse in the LDS community.

    (I had a pretty atypical LDS upbringing, part of which was that my parents were always drumming into my sister and I that we had to be good at math and science, and I’ve met other LDS women who had similar upbringings, but wow are they few and far between.)

  18. This subject carries a lot of angst. Women with the English, music,art history degrees find work 8-5 as Admin Assistants with inflexible hours. If they had obtained advanced degrees the option of Assistant/Associate professorships or even as Medical Doctors would have given much more flexibility for time with children, or for whatever options might interest them if they did not have children. I would love to see these options encouraged in YW and RS. It is also the responsibility of the husband to support his wife in her career or job IMHO.

  19. Angela H. says:

    As a female college student in the early 1990s, a part of me believed that it was dangerous to get a degree in a field where I might earn a lot of money and/or enjoy some career-related prestige. I might like it too much and then not want to stay home with my kids. This kind of thinking figured prominently in my decision not to go to law school after getting my English degree and instead get a teaching certificate. I also worried that a high paying job might be too stressful and make it difficult to juggle along with motherhood . . . but teaching high school was certainly stressful and exhausting, especially since I had to supervise extracurricular clubs on top of my teaching load, and the “summers off” part of the job didn’t make much of a difference during the first few years of my kids’ lives anyway. I’m hoping that things have changed over time, but when I was in school, choosing to go into engineering or law, aiming for a PhD or MBA, or wanting to become a doctor instead of a nurse or a dentist instead of a dental hygienist seemed like an announcement that you were one of “those women”–overly ambitious, and willing to sacrifice her children’s well-being on the altar of worldly success.

  20. @EBK, one point of my comment was that presumably at least some of the women who choose part-time work (assuming it is a choice for some of them) choose it because they DON’T want to spend so much of their time working, period. Unfortunately, most high paying jobs are not usually available for part-time work (although I think more could be). Those that are usually require many years of training (which are usually during the prime child-bearing years) which is usually accompanied by lots of debt, which provides even less less incentive for having a family (or for going through the training in the first place if you know you want to have a family).

    @RRobinson Eliminating the part-time bias may actually show that there is no greater income gap among full-time workers and completely explain Micheal’s questions. We just don’t know. It’s likely enough of an effect that the church affiliated/Utah schools would no longer be in the bottom although they’d probably still be in the bottom half.

    The point being, I think it’s a worthy topic to discuss ways that women are encouraged/discouraged in making the choices they make. But Micheal’s post here largely is a misuse of statistics to bring up a rather old topic, and he happens to fan the flames with his question of “do Mormons value women’s work less” along the way (which is weird since we don’t know anything about the religious affiliation of the employers).

  21. And by old topic, I mean a topic that has typically been discussed here and other places a lot. I think it’s worth discussing, but I doubt that Micheal’s post really adds anything significant to the discussion that wasn’t known before.

  22. Anon for this says:

    Exhibit A from the 2003 Eternal Marriage Student Manual – Mothers’ Employment Outside the Home.

    Is it any wonder that Mormon women are often plagued with guilt about their educational and career decisions?

  23. Is that manual still used today? I wonder how the women taking this class react? I know my teen daughters would laugh at it and roll their eyes at yet another motherhood lecture.

  24. kevin,
    I agree that many women work part time because they choose to and that should be accounted for when we have these discussions. My objection to your comment is that you seem to dismiss the fact that many Mormon women work part-time for less than minimum wage because learning and maintaining employable skills is not encouraged by the church (or at least was not encouraged when I was a youth, which was not that long ago). This is a problem. There are many high paying careers that are flexible that don’t take much more schooling than the bachellor’s degree that many Mormon women pursue. My career – public accounting – requires one year of schooling on top of a bachellor’s degree. It is high paying and most firms are more than willing to offer part time schedules. I have a friend who is pursuing a Master’s in Social Work at which point she will be given an administrative position in a high school. It will take her one year past her Bachellor’s degree and she will work the same hours as an elementary education teacher. I have a friend with a two year Master’s degree who does PR and has an extremely flexible schedule. I have multiple friends who are successful real estate agents and have flexible schedules. None of these options were presented to me as a YW. The other problem is that Mormon culture teaches that men’s education and career is worth the money and time investment no matter what it is but for women it is not worth the investment. Can’t we teach women that they are worth the investment? You say that the investment in women discourages having a family, but the fact is investing this time and money in men also discourages having a family, but we have decided that it’s worth it. Can’t we do the same for women?

  25. Anon for this says:

    The Influence of Religion and Values on a Young Woman’s College Decision

    “Many LDS women cannot envision a life of integration. They cannot imagine being simultaneously married, having children, and continuing college (even one class at a time). Some believe that women need to “give up” or “sacrifice” college for their husbands/families. Several participants said it was their “duty” to drop out of school.”

  26. Does anyone know when “work” ceased to be simply a means to end and instead became a matter of personal fulfillment? I wonder if this conversation would be any different if the vast majority of us, culturally, thought of work as primarily a means to an end.

  27. My perspective on these questions comes from teaching in the law school at BYU briefly and at Boston University. I found that among students and faculty the Mormons were the only group (by age, religion, geography, concentration) that clung to the bread-winner/home-maker ideal. Everybody else made education choices, career choices, family size choices, geography choices, etc, around a two-income dual career model. The consequences for men and women and the competitive environment are enormous.

  28. kevin,

    You seem to think that I am making some kind of argument about illegal discrimination in the workplace. Statements like this:

    “But Micheal’s post here largely is a misuse of statistics to bring up a rather old topic, and he happens to fan the flames with his question of “do Mormons value women’s work less” along the way (which is weird since we don’t know anything about the religious affiliation of the employers).”

    only make sense if you assume that I am saying that Mormon men, who are employers, value women’s work less and therefore pay women less for doing the same job that me do.

    This is not, actually, my point. I assure you that I am 100% satisfied that, at every Wal-Mart and 7-11 in Utah, employers pay men and women exactly the same wages for low-prestige, non-skilled, entry-level jobs. What I am really trying to figure out is how it is that Mormons seem to have created a culture in which it is far more likely that a college-educated woman will end up in such a position than a college-educated man.

    It is possible, of course, that you are correct in asserting (or at least strongly suggesting) that women want these jobs and take them, even though they could be brain surgeons or international financiers, because they love God and want to spend more time with their children. Or it is possible that something about our culture sends signals to women that their work is not valued so that, even when they want to participate in the work force, they face a tremendously limited set of options. A lot of the responses here posted by actual, bona-fide Mormon women would suggest the latter, and I admit that I posted this in the hopes that people would share their experiences.

    I am also sorry that you feel that this post added no value to the discussion. When I (in my other life as an academic administrator) encountered a very important, much-talked-about study in my field in which my alma mater occupied an almost absurdly extreme outlier position, I thought that it was worth taking 30 minutes to write about it. The number of people who have felt it worth taking five minutes to read what I wrote suggests that it might actually have been the right decision.

    Your mileage may vary, of course. Feel free to ignore this post and other, similarly unhelpful things I may write in the future. But please keep reading the stories that women post in response to articles like this one. We all need to understand each other’s experiences better in order to make our culture work for all of our children.

  29. Christian K.: not coincidentally, I’ve heard a number of reports from people connected with the placement office at the Marriott School that male BYU MBAs are getting a reputation among the Fortune 500 for being unwilling to treat female coworkers as peers, and even insubordinate toward female supervisors/managers. It will badly hurt the Church in the long run if male alumni of Church schools, especially the professional schools, get placed into the same “do not hire” bucket as graduates of Liberty or Regent.

    This isn’t just what about what girls and women are being taught at home and at church–it’s very much about what boys and men are taught as well.

  30. See if this matches your experience, but it seems to me that LDS young women face little or no pressure to choose a career where they are likely to have a high (or even steady) income. Arts, music, humanities? No problem! LDS young men, on the other hand, are told that their career needs to support a family…so isn’t there some STEM field you’d rather study? I’m not entirely sure who is getting the raw deal here, but if you only look at mean income you’re certainly going to see a difference.

  31. Angela C says:

    An underlying issue is that our leaders are all men from an earlier generation in which these ideas of gender roles made sound economic sense. That’s a pre-1970s world. In a world (today) in which the majority of (all) women work for financial compensation in the same marketplace as men, jobs in specific and the economy in general is no longer based on a single-breadwinner model. You can sit on your porch in your rocking chair, shaking your cane at the world as it goes by, but that’s not going to put groceries on the table or a roof over your head. Giving 1950s financial advice to people living in 2017 is not only antiquated, it’s reckless. And make no mistake, career choices (or not to have one) are primarily financial decisions, not spiritual ones. Nothing will lead to divorce as efficiently as the stress of poverty and lack of options.

    Not only do we tell women they deserve to be financially cared for without participating in the economy, but we tell their husbands that they are obligated to care for their wife and children as dependents, even when the economy is no longer ready to pay them as a single breadwinner. This advice serves no one and hurts everyone.

    And yet my sister overheard a primary class just yesterday in which the teacher asked the kids what they wanted to do when they grew up. The boys all talked about exciting careers, and the one girl said she wanted to be in a “nail painting club.”

  32. Thirty-four year old (1982) BYU-P female English major grad here who also happens to earn a six figure salary. So if these numbers are right I’m like, what, less than 1% of my female cohort? The sad thing is, of the women I went to class with, I was by no means the most talented or intelligent (ask my professors–they’ll tell you). I was, if I’m generous, average. And now, forgive the lack of seemly modesty, I’m really really good at what I do. There ought to me more of me out here. And, according to my kids (well, the one who talks already), I’m still a great mom. Husband thinks I’m doing a pretty good job on the wife front, too. When I was a leader in YW, I tried my hardest to emphasize that what these girls should look for is a satisfying career, one that would let them balance as best as possible all the other things they wanted (marriage, children, time for callings). And I also said, should they have the goal of getting married, their spouse should want the same thing: to contribute in all the areas of life they valued. The Judy-Brady-I-Want-a-Wife model of marriage is, frankly, the norm in LDS culture. It’s no wonder BYU-boys do so well. They have built-in personal-assistant-valets who are not only unpaid but often earn a little something for their bosses–I mean husbands on the side. This isn’t all men in my BYU cohort, obviously, but it is a LOT of them.

    When I started teaching in So-Cal just over a decade ago my mostly non-LDS students recognized the I-Want-a-Wife relationship model. Now more of my students, and my male students most vocally, are shocked (and even a little disgusted) that this mode of living still exists.

    It’s doing us all a disservice.

  33. richellejolene says:

    Just a test comment, since it doesn’t seem to have posted my full comment.

  34. richellejolene says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Michael. I have seen a few different publications of this data floating around on my social media in recent weeks, in some cases focusing on economic mobility and other times on gender disparities. BYU makes a poor showing either way, and it’s absolutely worth investigating why.

    As someone who fits both profiles (female, first-generation college student from a working-class family), I would just like to say that these numbers sadden me but do not surprise me. A point related to the lower-income students who arrive on campus: I got a fair bit of flak from BYU colleagues about having to take out federal loans to get through my schooling (rather than relying on my “college fund,” which didn’t exist, or help from my parents, who simply couldn’t). Mormons have this idea that loans are always bad, that needing a financial boost is a symbol of a slovenly lifestyle or a lack of moral fiber. We need to do away with this idea if we want to bring more lower-income students to campus. Even though BYU is incredibly affordable compared to the alternatives, this does not mean that every student or family has the money out-of-pocket. I needed those loans (even on top of generous scholarships) in order to make my education happen. I realize that your post deals more with the gender implications of this data, but I think removing the stigma around financial assistance will help all disadvantaged students, including women.

    As to being a woman at BYU, I will say this much: I have always been strong-willed, an independent thinker, and as feminist as I could get away with at any time. As an undergraduate, I thought I understood myself and my ambitions—that I was obtaining my degree as a step toward a full-time, fulfilling career. Yet somehow, after my years at BYU, I walked away with my master’s degree feeling like the universe was saying: “Psych! You never got married! Good luck on the job market, sister…” I couldn’t shake this feeling that someone had called my bluff—that in spite of my best intentions, I had always secretly thought I would be cut short on my career path by some kind of family planning. This had an enormous effect on my professionalization throughout my university experience, especially as someone whose parents had not gone to college. I didn’t network. I didn’t take advantage of all opportunities. I didn’t always nurture the kinds of professional relationships that can be crucial later down the road. I left BYU with a master’s degree and a lot of marketable skills but little knowledge of how to apply all of that to the pursuit of a fulfilling job as a woman.

    All that is to say: I think you’re asking the right questions, Michael. Why are BYU and Utah-based schools performing so poorly in these areas? The answer, as you suggest, is not likely to be “nefarious and rampant misogyny.” Very rarely was I expressly taught that I should limit myself education- or career-wise (save the one time a stake leader told my freshman ward that career ambitions were evil for women) and I very consciously subscribed to egalitarian views both in and out of the Church (and home). Yet somehow, I still walked away mildly surprised that I would have to use my degree. *Spoiler alert: I don’t feel that way AT ALL now that I’m in a PhD program at a state university in the Midwest. So yeah, I’d wager we have some cultural changes to make, even if they seem small or nuanced.

  35. I’ll be brutally honest here: as an adolescent I talked the good talk about getting an education and having a career but in fact I was quite sure that I was going to meet my husband at BYU and that if we didn’t get married as students, the graduation march would be closely followed by a wedding march and then children, with whom I would stay at home. That didn’t happen. I never did get married. I spent several years working in one of those lower-paid fields that women fall into easily before I decided that wasn’t for me, and went back to school. FWIW, I went Ivy League this time. Since then I’ve managed to build a career that’s been rewarding in many aspects, not least of which has been financial. I’ve had to do alone what many people do in couples – all good things, I might add, if occasionally stressful: choosing where to live, buying a car, buying a house, setting up a retirement plan, traveling (the fun part) to different corners of the world. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve built. But I have to say, if I hadn’t been forced to use my education, then further my education, then use my new education, I would be in a very different position now. I’m not saying it would be better or worse, just different. Because if I’d followed my expected path, even as I publicly scoffed at it, I would have been one of those $800-a-year women.

  36. richellejolene, I just broke your comment and two others out of moderation purgatory. Not sure how they ended up there, but now they are back.

  37. richellejolene says:

    Thanks, Michael! Glad to be part of this important discussion you’ve initiated.

  38. I’m a BYU alumni and made a six figure salary during my 30s and 40s. But at that time, while I was working full-time and going to grad school, there were those who would tell me, “Why aren’t you starting a family yet?” “God has a purpose for you and it’s being a mother in Zion.” Or my ‘favorite’, “You’re so selfish.”

    I had my first child at age 41 and continued working for a few years. I only left due to the high cost of daycare.

    I think that YW and Relief Society do women a huge disservice when they just go over how women only have one purpose and that’s to be mothers. Some of us can’t due to no fault of our own. There is HUGE pressure out there to be stay at home mothers. The whole guilt trip is so tiring.

    I’d love to know the population sample of this study. Is it only Utah? I know many other BYU grads who make a heck of a lot more than $800 a year. These women work either out of their homes or have their own businesses.

  39. For anyone who would like a community of career and education-minded LDS sister for support, advice and mentorship, check out http://www.aspiringmormonwomen.org and our Facebook group. Or if you know anyone that could benefit from such a community please refer them!

    I second or third what so many here have said. There is still remarkedly little or consistent support for *careers* for women. In today’s world unless you look toward building a career you are likely to be trapped in low paying and contingent work. As Angela said, we are doing a huge disservice to the current generation of Mormon families by holding on to an economic model that has huge risks of poverty and financial instability – a model by the way that is largely not viable globally. While there are small cultural changes and a nod toward more diversity in family models in church materials, the balance the weight of our cultural practice, rhetoric and artifacts press against career minded women. This isn’t likely to change quickly, so we have to come together in communities to do it ourselves.

  40. Elizabeth St Dunstan says:

    So I’m just a couple years younger than the group in this study, and I graduated from BYU. I remember my mom lecturing me all the time in middle and high school that “when you get married, if you can’t afford to both go to school, HE is dropping out and YOU are finishing because he’ll go back when the kids are little. You’ll have too much on your plate by then.” The sad part of this speech is that it was revolutionary and edgy and feminist compared to what I was getting at church. No surprise that I ended up in a typically feminine field. I am deeply proud of my work, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m dang good at it, but the push back I have gotten from male bosses when I list my accomplishments and negotiate for a raise is beyond insulting. One even told me “well of course [less qualified male colleague] makes more than you! He has a wife to support.” What I wouldn’t give to have a legally actionable recording of that meeting…

  41. Hawkgrrrl says:

    Just to share a quick example of the expected wage gap. We had a graduation party for the teens in our ward a while back, and another couple whose daughter was graduating were talking with us. Our son, like their daughter, was going to BYU-I, but without a strong idea of a career path. Their daughter was pretty set on school-teaching. I noted that while our son had some interest in teaching, in my opinion a very worthwhile and often rewarding career, we as Americans sure don’t pay them very well, and I worry that it might not be the best choice.

    The other mother’s reply was that it was a good career “for a lady.” Her assumption was that women don’t need to choose a career for financial reasons, but rather as a supplemental income, particularly if it’s in a “nurturing” field like teaching. Teaching is great, and we absolutely need teachers, but when we raise our daughters to assume they are going to be either unpaid or supplemental incomes, we are setting them up for potentially disastrous outcomes if and when that just doesn’t pan out.

    I guess compared to many Mormons, her view was progressive.

  42. Olde Skool says:

    As a “soft field” female BYU-P professor (and comfortable six-figure earner), I’d like to push back against one point that has come up a couple of times in this discussion: those who major in “soft” fields like humanities, English, etc., haven’t chosen career paths that will necessarily set themselves up for jobs as Walmart greeters. However–and I suspect this is true of many disciplines including the STEM fields–it’s what you do after you earn your degree (in whatever field) that counts. One can major in chemistry and stall out as a lab tech in the low $30K range. A STEM degree isn’t a ticket to financial well-being, and no major–even business!–offers a magic salary bullet. To maximize earning potential in any field, one needs a healthy dose of ambition and competitiveness, drive and self-assertion. And THAT’S where we most fail our YW: in suggesting that those qualities are unladylike, and that girls are better suited to self-sacrificing care for others.

  43. Hawkgrrrl says:

    I have a 4-year BYU degree in English and attained a 6 figure corporate executive position in a global leadership role for 8 years with a Fortune 50 company. I had intended to become a writer, but I was too risk-averse for that type of career. Ambition does have a lot to do with it, and so does (in my case) having a spouse who supports and shares your goals and who doesn’t see it as a zero-sum game. Mutual respect beats gender roles any day of the week. We also used child care which can be expensive early on but is the only way to be able to get to the roles that offer much more flexibility and enough pay to reduce every other kind of stress.

    I believe that the opportunities my kids got to experience the world, to have a better education because of the doors that were opened through my career, will benefit them their whole lives. If you have a chance to become a more interesting person, you say yes. I hope I’ve taught them that by example.

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    APM, I’ve heard the same reports you mention about male BYU grads who cannot work effectively with women. They need to fix that, stat. I happen to work in a field that has a lot of women at very high levels (attorneys, bankers, analysts, government officials). Refusing to ride on an elevator with a woman might make you feel all Saturday’s Warrior righteous when you do it at BYU. In the real world not being able to relate to and work well with female colleagues in such a way is going to have significant repercussions for one’s career, as well as for BYU’s continuing ability to place its grads in such positions.

  45. Tiberius says:

    @ Old Skool:

    Yes it’s no guarantee, but it’s much, much more likely in those fields.

    Every week there’s a Chronicle of Higher Education article talking how “soft” degrees can actually be quite useful for the workplace, but they always seem a bit self-serving and are never written by employers (ironically, these articles are often next to the ones about suicide or stress in “soft discipline” graduate school because of high debt and no employment prospects).

    Yes, some people with soft degrees and no further technical training make it into the big shot fields, but those positions are increasingly becoming unicorns as the earning gaps among degrees widens and your application is competing with hundreds of others with MBAs, MAs, etc.

    If you have a love for sociology or whatever, fine, get the generic BA degree after you’ve learned plumbing, but I’ve seen too many single mothers or mothers stuck in atrocious marital situations with their “useless” (in market terms) soft field degrees (even ones that did try to get into the work force). Get your daughters a hard skill, full stop.

  46. Olde Skool says:

    Reading my last comment, I fear it sounds as if I’m saying, “Hey, if you don’t make a lot of money, you just lack ambition!” Yikes. That’s not what I meant. Rather, I meant to say that the development of and lifelong sustaining of a career of any kind requires skills that get taught in classrooms, and also skills that get cultivated in culture more broadly. As we suppress our YW’s exposure to the latter, it can work against even the classroom success they might enjoy.

  47. For the record, all three of my degrees are in English, and two of them are from BYU. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, wealthy. But I am not working at Wal-Mart either. And my kids have clothes and, on most days, food.

  48. Olde Skool says:

    Michael: my kids have food and, on most days, clothes on.

  49. The study results are not surprising at all. BYU is the place where women are most likely to meet and then marry a man who can earn enough that she does not have to work to live a middle class lifestyle and who are OK with her staying home to raise a family. At age 34, most married women have young children and would love to spend lots of time with them, if possible. The single women at that age (two of my sisters would be included) are probably working and making fairly good money by that time. One of my unmarried sisters had an incredibly high household income up to her early 30s, since she lived with my parents until then.
    Among my siblings and in-laws, 2 couples out of 8 have the wife earning close to the same as the husband. These are also the 2 families where the husband earns the least money, or has a less stable income. In the local wards where I know many families well, there are only 2 college educated couples that probably have income that is similar or the wife making more. There have been at least 2 other couples who lived here previously where the wife seemed to have the better job, and they moved to support her career. I know several women who could be very successful in business, but who have just focused their efforts elsewhere usually their family and church or community service. There is nothing wrong if lowering your personal income is done as a conscious choice, which it seems to be in the vast majority of cases.

  50. I quit my full-time job just before my oldest child was born (almost 19 years ago) and haven’t worked outside the home since. Realistically speaking, I don’t think I could have managed parenting my children while working even part-time, and our family was fortunate in that my husband’s income was enough to support all of us comfortably. But I won’t be advising my daughters to go the route I did. I will strongly recommend that they keep at least one foot in the workforce after they have children, and that they get an education with that plan in mind.

  51. Can anyone think of a way to get this discussion heard by the General RS, YW, and Primary Presidencies?

  52. I’m a female convert ,in her late fifties with a college degree. Most of my LDS female peers do not have a college degree due to dropping out when they married in the 1970’s-80’s. But I knew more older LDS women who were of grandmotherly age during those years, who did have their college degrees because “we Mormons have always valued education”. I wonder if affluence in the later generation influenced our LDS subculture to believe education and employable skills were not necessary for females anymore because the doctrine didn’t change–The glory of God has always been intelligence. Even the Proclamation on the Family states that each spouse should be prepared to do what the other spouse does. I found it a bit ridiculous when BYU starting airing their ads aimed at women, “Finish now what you started at BYU!” Like that’s a great idea. No, if they’d done it right in the first place, they wouldn’t be backtracking later. And the more education a woman has, the more flexible her work hours can be and she can work fewer hours at higher pay.

  53. Every rose has its thorn.

  54. I wonder if things even out (more) for Mormon women a few years later than the average. My roommates graduated from BYU in family & consumer science and it took a few years for them to zero in on a career when the traditional marriage & kids route didn’t work out. My mom went back to school in her 40s and is now doing very well as the head nurse of a doctor’s office. Obviously you are at a disadvantage if you are figuring out graduate school/career paths later than most, but I am curious to see if things are more even for women in their 40s.

    I’m a U of U alum, and I really only got push back on getting my degree (geology) from a fellow student who could not stop asking me how I expected to manage a career and a family. Anecdotally, many of the more successful women in my singles ward felt their career success and ambitions were hurting them socially and possibly preventing them from getting married. My adolescent experience in YW echoes many of the other comments.

  55. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    It’s hard to overstate the impact of being out of the workforce for over a decade (at a minimum), and then trying to re-enter employment. Even for those women who complete a degree prior to having children, there is a tremendous disadvantage. Essentially, having that degree sort of doesn’t matter. Obviously, it matters (I hope) because it conveys knowledge and understanding that should contribute to all other areas of a person’s life. But, as far as getting a job, it’s tough. I see SO MANY women, who had planned to stay home until the children were “grown”, and then begin, or restart, a career, who are shaken by the difficulty of finding employment. And, when they do, they are starting at the bottom with recent HS graduates or newly-minted college graduates in entry level jobs. I’m not going to diminish the benefits of being able to, and choosing to, do the SAHM thing. We need to make sure those who make that choice (which is not always a “choice”) understand that when that phase is over, things will be rough. We all know women who have made it work, but they are the exceptions. So, in presuming, asking, coercing, structurally facilitating, that women will make this sacrifice, we must understand just what the sacrifice is. It often includes a loss of occupational prestige, fulfilling employment, schedule flexibility, financial compensation, and peer respect. And, they enter into this situation at just about the time those things begin to peak for their husbands, who are now well-respected in their jobs, have prestigious positions, enjoy their work, are able to be flexible with their time/schedules, and are beginning to really make money. It’s a situation ripe for resentment.

  56. Work experience on top of a degree is crucial for further employment, especially in the “soft skills” field. My cousin got value from a political science degree but arguably more so from working on political campaigns. It’s why colleges recommend internships — to give you real-life experience, develop a professional network, and learn more about employers in a field.

    On the motherhood/work question, many of the mothers I know, regardless of whether they are FT or at home, would love to be working part-time. They want to engage with other adults on meaningful projects (whether for money or for brain engagement) and still be able to spend time with their kids. But generally, those kinds of jobs are harder to wrangle into — in the US at least, that model is harder to find. And certainly it would be advantageous if we more frequently asked men, “Who is watching your kids and taking care of household errands while you’re at work?” if only to remind them that the “second shift” is a real thing.

    On a completely separate note, Michael, you and Kristine H are my very favorite writers and someday I would like a book of your collected blogs and essays. I’ll read anything you guys write, so BCC, please keep them happy. (-;

  57. A little late but I think I also have a comment stuck in limbo…

  58. Got it–thanks!!

  59. Wow, thanks for this discussion! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a clearer counter-argument to the oft-repeated statement that of *course* the Church encourages women to get an education. Well, yeah, sorta kinda, but only with a lot of qualifiers. I appreciate everyone who so clearly explained those qualifiers and their unfortunate effects.

  60. My take home: don’t live in Utah. Seriously, this is not an LDS problem, this is an LDS-in-Utah problem more than anything. This pressure to conform to Utah norms…. The reality is that women who want to stay home with their children are at a disadvantage in their career path, as perfectly described by A Turtle Named Mack. It’s a sacrifice. It’s also a sacrifice to try working while having children, with the added stress, time away, child care issues, etc. Either way, it’s a decision to be made by individuals and couples based on their personal and financial needs. Girls need to be prepared to work and taught to be prepared but in my experience with young adults now, (far outside of Utah) the greater concern is girls putting off relationships and/or marriage in favor of careers, not the other way around.

    I also wonder about the idea mentioned by Marian that perhaps some of this evens out later. Lots of women I know weren’t working in their 30s but are in their 40s and 50s.

  61. Kay Cookie says:

    Interesting – I live in this demographic (born in 1982), but didn’t attend BYU. My alma mater has much closer salaries for men and women and I, as I work part time, lie well below their salary. I would be very curious, too, to see this repeated in 10 years, and see how the numbers change as I imagine many more women would enter or re-enter the workforce. I have a PhD, but only work part time right now and don’t make much money. I plan to work a lot more once my 4th and youngest child is in kindergarten in 2 more years. That said, I am sure I will not make more than my husband. We don’t want to have 2 tenure track careers and as he loves research and I decidedly do not, it is easier for him to have a tenure track position and I something with more flexibility. That said, I am glad that I have degrees and that I only took 2 years completely out of the workforce / grad school. Working part time can be frustrating in many ways, but I love dealing with something other than toddlers all the time, something I enjoy, uses my skills, and in some small way helps those outside my family. I encourage every young woman I meet to get the best education she can, but not quit there. I could make less money than I do now working full time at minimum wage or I can work 3 mornings a week while my kids are in preschool because I have a PhD in a valued field. I know which one I would rather do.

  62. To all the comments about women making the choice to stay at home:
    Choice is really an interesting concept for devout Mormons and probably deserves a blog post all on its own. When you 100% believe that you have to make a certain choice or your children’s eternal soul is at stake, is that really a choice you made? If leaders you believe and trust to share the word of God with you imply that you are less righteous if you do not make a certain choice, do you really have the ability to make that choice. Yes, a large portion of Mormon women choose to stay at home, but my guess is that most of them would not make that decision if it had not been taught to them from a very young age that any other choice than this would make them less righteous, less happy, less worthy, a worse mother, a worse daughter of God. We are taught from childhood that this is the ONLY good choice. It’s hard to undo all of that conditioning to really find out what you as an individual and mother actually want for you and your family. I don’t think it’s really as simple as, “women make less money because they want to stay home more than men want to.” If we could strip away all the pressures women face I don’t think this would be true at all.

  63. DLH, I’m not sure that this is solely a Utah issue. I live well outside the Mormon corridor. A while ago our Relief Society started a book group that met in the afternoon. I’m still not sure whether they actively didn’t want those of us who had full-time jobs, or whether it simply didn’t occur to them that some of us had full-time jobs. But there was a very clear message that those RS sisters who were doing it RIGHT were SAHMs.

  64. Your spreadsheet says “Median income for Males Compared to Mean Income for Females” – could part of this just be comparing Medians to Means, instead of Medians to medians or means to means?

  65. More follow up – the linked spreadsheet has slightly different numbers than your screenshots (which do say median to median) – which dataset did you use from http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/data/ ?

  66. Cate – I can’t speak entirely to your experience. Maybe I’ve been lucky where we live on the east coast in that our leaders, male and female, have been very aware of the various situations the sisters find themselves in and things like planning activities during the day doesn’t happen. I’m not speaking of you necessarily, because you know the situation and I don’t, but I’ve found leaders often make decisions without thinking through who it affects and how. I honestly don’t think most leaders are consciously saying “working is bad” because they forget and plan things working women might not be able to attend. They act from their own experience and for lots of women, especially older women, having time during the day is the norm. It takes time and patience to educate.

  67. That’s a fair point, DLH. And certainly wards are different.

  68. brd529

    All of the data came from “Online Data Table 4 Cross-Sectional Estimates by College: Heterogeneity by Gender and Alternative College and Income Definitions” in the first study listed on the linked page. I used the median-to-median comparisons–the “median to mean” heading was a typo in my own sheet that I have corrected. The mean scores are here:


  69. John Mansfield says:

    It’s nice to have this essay out at the same time as Megan McArdle’s Bloomberg piece an Utah’s low income inequality, “How Utah Keeps the American Dream Alive.” The creative capacity of Mormon women doesn’t vanish when they’re not working for a company for pay. It flows into the strength of their communities through other avenues then paid work. It is a valuable thing that is not valued by some on the left who prize gender neutrality, nor by some on the right who prize capitalism.

  70. As an adult, I’ve actually never had anyone in the LDS community directly question my career choices, but I do think there’s some subtle but real bias at BYU that could limit women’s careers. For example, compared to male students in my field at BYU who were heading to graduate school, I got comparatively less engagement and strategic help from my professors, in a field where mentoring is really important. My professors offered my male peers research jobs, took them to conferences, co-authored papers with them, sat them down to discuss their careers, and gave them glowing recommendation letters. When I approached them, they were kind but distant and often acted as if I was looking for remedial help of some kind. They were shocked when I got into several top 5 grad programs–and only then, in the last few months of my senior year, did they start trying to offer me research opportunities. Several of them suggested that I needed to work on “projecting confidence,” which confused me because I felt fairly confident. Looking back, I wonder if “you don’t project confidence” simply meant “you aren’t on my radar (because you’re a woman).” I did worry that I wasn’t treated seriously because of something I lacked, but I don’t think I was any less proactive or competent than my male peers who got a lot of investment from professors.

    Perhaps it was simply that all of the professors were male and they identified more with male students. It could have been something specifically about my personality, of course. But maybe there was also an assumption that my career would dead-end when I had kids, or that my financial wellbeing was less crucial than my male peers’ because I’d inevitably have a working spouse.

  71. I’ve been pondering this post and the comments since I first read it last night. While I agree that there is much work to do in terms of leveling the playing field for women in education and in the workforce (for instance, I can relate to Em’s experience above in feeling that I did not receive the same mentoring or encouragement by professors at BYU as did my male counterparts), I am really struggling with an underlying tone picked up from many comments that certain fields/majors are “easy” or “soft”… the bottom line being that women who are really “aspiring” should be encouraged to choose more prestigious careers. I have no desire whatsoever to work in a STEM field, and I get so tired of the push to get more girls to pursue such careers, implying that these careers are somehow better or a sign of greater intelligence, or that women have really arrived. What I *would* like to see is a push for women–and men–to pursue whatever career they would be interested in! If a girl is interested in STEM subjects, then by all means encourage her to shoot for the stars and follow her dream. But only if she’s interested. In middle school and high school I was invited to participate in the school’s gifted program. 90% of the activities that were planned for us involved science and math. To me, this was not only tedious as neither of these subjects were my thing, but even at that age I recognized and resented the implicit message that being gifted meant being interested in science and math. I was interested in writing, art, music, history and literature. Not because being female my parents, teachers, or church encouraged it, but because that was who I was and those were the things I naturally loved. For what it’s worth, I was good at science and math (honors classes and all that jazz), just not particularly interested.

    At BYU, I majored in music, and I have a master’s degree in that field. Those who perceive music as an easy major have never been music majors. IMO, the School of Music is home to some of the most difficult, demanding, and competitive programs at the university, and many students found themselves well-prepared to go on to medical or law school. The vast majority of students in music programs at BYU (and I’m sure at other universities) are there simply because they love music with such ferocity that no other major will do. I tried three years in a different major and came back to music because I couldn’t live without it. It was in my blood and in my soul. No one that I knew majored in music merely because it would fit well with family life. Also, we were strongly encouraged to charge what we were worth for lessons or other musical activities based on our many years of education and experience (going back to childhood) and never to work for “peanuts”.

    There seem to be some strong biases as to what is a worthy career and what is not, and I think that those biases need to be examined. I would love to see such biases dismantled not only for women but for men also. I know plenty of people who went to college with the goal of having a career where they could make really good money and later wished they would have chosen to do something they really loved instead. My husband wanted to be a nurse and actually tried for several years, without success, to get into nursing school. Now he’s an HR director, and I honestly think he would be far happier as a nurse, even though it wouldn’t be as prestigious.

  72. Lisa, I completely agree. I saw an argument recently that claimed the gender wage gap wasn’t real and only appears to exist because women (naturally) choose lower paying careers like teaching or care-taking over careers in science or business that pay more but are less family-friendly.

    But this is part of the problem: not that more women don’t go into “prestigious” fields, but that our society thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to pay a petroleum engineer three times as much as a school teacher. Men get pushed away from “feminine” careers in the arts that they might enjoy or excel at, towards careers that will allow them to support a family (but may not allow them to be home much). Maybe pushing women into STEM fields will help solve the problem by reducing sexual stereotypes across careers that contribute to unequal compensation, but I’m not sure.

  73. Molly Bennion says:

    In 1979 (19:4) BYU Studies published an article titled “The Declining Distinctiveness of Utah’s Working Women” by Howard Bahr, then a BYU sociology prof and Director of the Family Research Institute. I’ve remembered it because it really stuck out in Mormon writings for its data and its conclusions at that time. Between 1940 and 1970 he found Utah women losing ground educationally to other women and to men. He correctly concluded Utah women would be in the workforce out of economic necessity and argued, among other things, for “an intensive effort by educators and planners responsible for the design of vocational and professional education in Utah to provide the opportunities and encouragement that will permit Utah women who elect to enter the labor force to do so in higher status occupations, thereby maximizing their economic contributions to their families…” He said this would “minimize the negative impacts of women’s employment upon family life.” I’d love to see his numbers updated but it seems from this excellent post his recommendations had little effect.

  74. Beatrice says:

    I wanted to chime in as a former Child Development major from BYU in the late 90s. I took my degree seriously because I viewed it as a career path. I was passionate about studying human development from a scientific perspective. I was careful to select teachers who focused on the scientific literature instead of focusing on what general authorities have said, I worked in a research lab during my last two years, and completed an honors project. Luckily, I found a faculty mentor who was very supportive of me going to grad school who advised me on applications. I was accepted to a top program and completed my Ph.D. I married during my second year of grad school and had a baby right after finishing my dissertation. I taught classes at local small colleges for a couple of years and was home with my son most of the day. I identified a great mentor at a local University and applied for and got post-doc funding. I’m just finishing my post-doc and will start a new job in a couple months with a salary above the median for men graduating from BYU-P. It is important to mention that even though I was only away from research for a couple years, I had to explain this gap in my publication record in all my applications for funding. I’m not sure about other scientific fields, but at least in my field they are getting better at accommodating non-traditional career paths. They now include a place on applications where you can explain gaps in your record, and I was successful in obtaining funding despite this gap.

    My overall point is that you can make a good salary in the soft sciences and in other traditionally female fields. However, there are a large number of barriers to this happening for women at church schools. 1-Given my experience teaching at four different colleges, I know that human development is taught very differently at BYU than other schools. 2-Many fields require advanced degrees or work experiences to pull in a larger salary. 3-As others have mentioned, it is not only viewed as sinful for women to work after college, but it is also often frowned upon for women to approach their undergrad degree as a potential career during college. I think what made a big difference for me was that I approached my major as a future career from the beginning and was able to find supportive mentors along the way.

  75. Mormon raised, 30-something woman here. This topic really infuriates me. I chose to be home with my children, because I want to. I know, its hard to fathom how I could want to be home with my adorable snot- nosed minions, but there it is. No one indoctrinated me, or pressured me. And I’ll tell you what, the guilt and shame and all that yada yada has come from the feminist side who “don’t value my work” and try to shame me into their little career fulfillment box. If you claim to want women to have choices and fulfilment then walk the walk dammit. It’s not all about “money and prestige of the career” for everyone. Its crazy, but people have different interests. Some women, and I venture to say, many women (especially in our Mormon culture) just have different goals and aspirations than the world. And it’s ok! As a feminist you should support that.

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