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Opinion: Do women have to leave Utah to achieve equality?

April 17th, 2013 Posted in Opinion

By Jessica Sonderegger

As a student and employee, I have come to an appropriate conclusion at the end of my undergraduate studies: if I am to seriously pursue a career—one where I will be recognized and adequately compensated for my expertise—I not only need to leave the valley, but the stateliness of Utah.

I’m under the impression that I am not alone. Conversations exchanged between graduating seniors often refer to relocation as a first and necessary step into the workforce. But there two differences between my escape versus those of my male colleagues and coworkers, two differences that make my exit strategy that much more urgent, and that much more valid.

I am a woman—a pregnant woman. And in Utah, that translates into me being at the bottom of the food chain, with nothing more to look forward to than low wages and expensive childcare. Various studies suggest I will be earning less than my baby’s daddy, a figure that was already significantly smaller to begin with, seeing as I am a woman and he is a man. By “nature,” he continues to earn more than I because of gender, but the gap gets even bigger when we become parents.

Income disparity between my well-educated career and my husband’s well-educated career, on the basis of my female sex organs, is not the only consequence we will battle. (I say “we” on the basis that his income is my income; the more we have to share, the more we have.) According to a study by the Pew Research Center, I will also find myself considering and reconsidering the part-time labor market, though my qualifications and experiences will far exceed those expected of low-skilled, low-wage workers. The opinions and assumptions of my neighbors, family members, friends and community will pressure me to abandon any hopes for fulltime employment altogether, and embrace a stay-at-home lifestyle they were raised to enjoy.

My occupational endeavors will be limited, and my hefty student loans—the lingering proof of my educational accomplishments and potential—will be the responsibility of my hardworking, well paid and respected husband.

Of course, this isn’t a phenomenon limited to the Beehive State. No, no. but I consider leaving the state on the premise that conditions here are especially difficult for women. In 2008, Utah had the fourth largest gender wage gap in the nation. And that was an improvement from 1990, when the state had the largest gender wage gap in the United States.

I will have to be wise with my relocation, in order to avoid states ranking below Utah, but I and other women in my graduating class with have to face facts:

1.) We are not in a prime location to be challenging the gender-stratified workforce.

2.) Regardless of our religion, personality or political views, Utah will continue to encourage reproduction.*

3.) The right-to-work status of our Utah residency will perpetuate our wage disparities.

But on a lighter note, rumor has it that D.C. is our best option. And I love the East Coast. *Note: I take full responsibility and credit for the conception of our child. And I am excited to meet him, whether or not Mommy will be punished as a career professional.


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