Despite Educational Gains in the Past 25 Years, Women in Utah Still Face Higher Rates of Poverty Than Men

According to a new report released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Utah received a C-minus on indicators related to women’s poverty and opportunity, ranking 29th in the United States. 

IWPR’s Poverty & Opportunity Composite Index scores the states based on four indicators: educational attainment, business ownership, poverty, and access to health insurance coverage. Overall, the status of women in these areas has worsened in the majority of states (29) in the last decade. In 21 states and the District of Columbia, women’s status with regard to poverty and opportunity has improved. In Utah, the Poverty & Opportunity score has worsened slightly since 2004, when the state received a C.

In every state, there are more women living in poverty than men. In Utah, 86.5 percent of women over 18 are living above poverty, compared with 89.7 percent of men. Native American and Hispanic women in Utah are much more likely to live in poverty than white and Asian women. Women remain less economically secure then men even though women throughout the United States continue to outpace men in earning college degrees. In Utah 28.9 percent of women hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 33.7 percent of men. This can be explained by the fact that Utah women hold fewer graduate or professional degrees than men in Utah (7.9 percent compared with 12.8 percent), according to the 2014 research briefing The Well-Being of Women in Utah: An Overview (IWPR, YWCA Utah).

An unfortunate trend toward greater educational attainment and greater economic insecurity appeared among Millennial women. In Utah, Millennial women are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher (31 percent) than Millennial men (28.5 percent). Yet, Millennial women in Utah are also more likely to live in poverty than Millennial men: 19.2 percent of Millennial women live below poverty, compared with 15.2 percent of Millennial men.

As more women attain a college education, the gender wage gap continues to be a persistent issue for working women. If women received equal pay, IWPR researchers estimate that the poverty rate for all working women in the United States would be cut by more than half, declining from 8.1 percent to 3.9 percent.

“Women in Utah have made educational gains in the last 25 years, but still face a persistent gender wage gap and higher rates of poverty than men in the state,” said Anne Burkholder, CEO of the YWCA Utah. “These trends are even more pronounced for women of color, requiring broad-based efforts to increase all women’s access to economic opportunity, narrow the wage gap, and improve the well-being of women, families, and communities in Utah for generations to come.”

The report shows that while women have made great gains in education in recent years, access to education varies across racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, Asian/Pacific Islander women are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher (48.4 percent), while Hispanic women are the least likely (15.3 percent). In Utah, Hispanic women are the least likely to have high school diploma; 33 percent of Hispanic women have less than a high school diploma, compared with just 4.7 percent of white women without a high school diploma.

Women in Utah also own a much smaller share of businesses than men.  In Utah, women own 24.9 percent of businesses, ranking the state 46th in the nation for the share of businesses owned by women. One recent study, however, has indicated that Utah is among the top ten states with the fastest estimated growth in women-owned businesses between 1997 and 2014 (American Express Open 2014).  Between 1997 and 2007, the proportion of women-owned businesses in the United States increased marginally from 26.0 percent to 28.8 percent.

In 2013, 17 percent of women in Utah lacked health insurance. Hispanic, non-union women are particularly unlikely to have access to health insurance, with less than half of this population receiving coverage. Data reflecting current coverage rates at the state level are not yet available. The number of women with access to health insurance in the state may be affected by provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), given that Utah has not adopted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

Poverty rates vary considerably depending on whether women (and men) have children. Single mothers have the highest rates of poverty in every state. Utah ranks 22nd in the number of households headed by single women with children that live below poverty (41.5 percent). Single mothers include those who are never married, married with an absent spouse, divorced, separated, or widowed. They include mothers who are survivors of domestic violence and who are separated or divorced from their husbands. IWPR researchers estimate that if working single mothers in the United States received equal pay, the very high and persistent poverty rate for families with a working single mother would be cut nearly in half, from 28.7 percent to 15 percent.

Additional data on poverty and opportunity among millennial women, older women, immigrant women and women living with same-sex partners, along with detailed breakdowns by race and ethnicity, is available at