Utah and the Working Mother

On a recent post, Kristine was wondering about the number of Mormon women who work*. To do this it is common to use Utah and ignore the fact that Utah is not totally Mormon. If we look at the census, 58% of women in Utah work but only 54% work nationwide. So a higher percentage of Utahn women work than the national average. Unfortunately this is not a very “apples-to-apples” comparison. Utah is more white and has a different age distribution than the nation as a whole. So now compare white women between the age 20 and 30. Utah is identical to the national average with 71% working.

Next, let’s concentrate on mothers. In addition to race and age, only look at women who are married and have children under the age of 5. Utah= 51%, National=54.5%, so Utah’s mothers show a small tendency to less work when young children are around.

Let’s now just look at those mothers who at least have a high school education: Utah= 52% (about the same as for the less educated) but the national number climbs to 58.5%. If we use just those mothers with children 1 or 2 years old and redo the exercise, we get Utah=50%, National=57%, which is slightly lower for both, but the gap remains about 7 percentage points.

Not all work is the same, so look at those with children under 5 working more than 20 hours: Utah=34%, National 48%, a 14 point gap.

Alternatively, look at mothers working away from home: Utah 43%, National=52%, a 9 point gap.

Not all of Utah is Mormon. For example, if half of Utah is active Mormons then, if we assume that the nonmembers looked like the national average, all the above gaps should be doubled to get the “Mormon gap”. But this is a rather strong assumption.

One imperfect way to get at Mormonism is to restrict the sample to a particularly Mormon place, such as Provo-Orem and the surrounding towns. Keep the sample restrictions used before such as young, married, white, women with at least a high school degree and a child younger than 5 at home, then look at the number of mothers working away from home: Provo=36%, 16 points below the national average (approximately doubling the gap found for Utah in general, as out previous assumption predicted). Thus Provo mothers work away from home at about 2/3 the national average. Of course, many of those mothers at home are working, but only at home, presumably in an attempt to stay close to their young. These are probably the piano teachers, day care providers and others who do some work to help make ends meet.

Lastly, go back to Utah and look at white young mothers with a college degree: Utah=52% (same as for the less educated Utahns), National=67%(!). A 15 point gap, driven entirely by the high work rate of the non-Utah highly educated mothers. Looking at mothers employed full time among the college educated, we get Utah=31%(!), and National=56%, so that the full-time national average is twice the Utah average.

Conclusion: In apples to apples comparisons, Utah mothers appear to work less than the national average, after controlling for demographic differences. Also, Utah women work less outside the home and avoid full time work. The difference gets very big when looking at the well-educated or at places in Utah , such as Provo-Orem, which are very LDS (although that is going to be contaminated somewhat by a high student population). The effects are also very pronounced when dealing with 1 and 2 year old children.

*Work as used here means work for pay or profit.

20 comments for “Utah and the Working Mother

  1. The dangerous thing here is that there might be a confounding cultural variable, such that if the % Mormon is greater than x, women are less likely to work. I have no hard data, but empirically, it seems as if the Mormon women in cosmopolitan centers where I have lived work out of the home at a higher rate than say women in Provo.

  2. Provo/Orem might also be biased due to the number of students. There are a lot of people who are either holding off kids, working to afford it, or even having the woman work to help pay for the husband’s schooling. (I’ll ignore the discussion of fairness in that since most people I know doing that simply are families where the woman graduated first. I don’t think it entails the woman dropping her schooling all the time.)

  3. In a recent sacrament meeting talk, a woman described women who work outside the home, “leaving their children to be raised by others,” as selfish and greedy. I didn’t stay to hear the rest of her talk. I didn’t want my head to explode. But this post makes me think the same thing now as I thought then: in the last 30 years, why have women not learned to support each others choices; to assume that we are all doing the best we can with what we have, and to think the best of each other, regardless of what decisions we make about outside employment?

    There is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.”

    What is your point, Frank? Is there some moral lesson we are to take away from this little exercise in statistics?

  4. Nice work, Frank!

    I would also be interested to hear what data source you used.

    Ann, Frank is a scientist (well, a social scientist anyway…), so he’s interesting in knowledge for its own sake! Readers may draw their own moral lessons.

  5. I find Frank’s data interesting becuase it appears to be a pretty accurate answer to a straight forward question.

    Question: how many Mormon women work inside/outside the home?
    Answer: see Frank’s post.

    I don’t see any conclusions, moral or otherwise, from Frank’s post. I do find it interesting, simply because it is a (presumably)accurate answer to a question I have asked myself before.

  6. Bryce- I just pulled the 5% census microdata sample and ran the numbers myself. Sorry, there is no link I can provide, but you’re welcome to the raw data if you have a convenient way to manipulate it.

    J. Stapley- If your point is that Utah mormon may be different than other mormons, I think that is quite possible. Especially since there may be more converts in the non-Utah data.

    Clark- the student bias was actually my main concern about Provo-Orem. But note that one would expect mothers whose husbands are in school to be _more likely_ to work, due to the low household income. So this means the Provo area may actually be even farther from the national numbers than what I reported, once one controls for husband school status. There is also the issue of mothers who are students, so all in all the Provo info is nice, but not conclusive unless I put more time into it.

    Ann- One point is that using Utah data as a proxy for mormon data might be okay once one controls for difference in age, race, education and so forth. But that without controlling for these confounding factors, it is very difficult to draw conclusions from comparing Utah to the U.S. as a whole. This applies to discussions of drug use, alcoholism, depression, divorce, bankruptcy, and all the other Utah facts that get bandied around. Also, I find the information interesting to know. The moral lesson is to always get your facts straight.

  7. Kristine,

    Good question. Since restricting work to full time makes the gap bigger than the unrestricted gap, that implies that the gap must be smaller (or reversed) for the part time workers. So for young, white, married, mothers of young children with a high school degree, Utah=17%, National=10%. Of course this is not because the Utahns are literally working more, it’s because they are not working full time.

  8. I am not surprised that you used the word “work” as shorthand for “is employed outside the home”, since one word is a lot easier and quicker to type than five.

    But, there is at least the subtle implication that what a woman does in child rearing, house managing, cleaning, cooking, etc. etc., is not work.

    For those of us who head off to the office or classroom or business for eight or ten or twelve hours of “work,” a day spent “working” at home (which doesn’t end after eight or ten or twelve hours) would leave us yearning for the easy life at the office or classroom or business.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that what a woman (or a man, for that matter) does at home isn’t work, but a clarification about what you mean by “work” would have been nice.

  9. Mark, that’s right. In this case I am using “work” as shorthand for answering yes to the question “did you work last week for pay or profit?” Thanks for the clarification.

  10. Frank, this was great. And since it supports my anecdotal hunch, the moral to be drawn is: Rosalynde’s anecdotal evidence is always accurate. :)

  11. “These are probably the piano teachers, day care providers and others who do some work to help make ends meet.”

    What? Here are the jobs of women I know who work part time: software designer, acoustic physics, accountant, pharmacist, nurse, child development counselor/educator, medical transcriptionist, seamstress (two, actually), writer.

    I know that lots of women do do day care and that sort of thing. But I think you are presenting a gross stereotype, especially for women in the 20-30 range.

    I think these women are the solution to the horrid working/nonworking mothers debate.

  12. Julie,

    The census data includes occupation, so at some point the occupational question could be answered. But note that what you quoted of me is referring to women who work at home, not those who work part-time. Some of the jobs you mention could certainly be done at home, but I know all of the ones I mentioned can and frequently are. So the stereotype is not as gross as it may at first appear.

    Also, I don’t think it is better to be an accountant or transcriptionist at home than a daycare provider or piano teacher, thus the stereotype is not, to my mind, gross. :)

    Regardless, thanks for the examples of what part time women do for employment. That is quite helpful.

  13. If doing multi-level marketing counts as work, then the Utah work rate for white women should be substantially higher than the national average.

  14. David,

    Since muti-level marketing is working “for pay or profit”, the work measured here should include all the people that actually do enough MLM to remember it when asked about their employment. Those that do so little MLM that they forget they do it are probably not worth worrying about.

    And as you can see, the average is higher for women in Utah, but not by much.

  15. So are you going to do a comparison between Utah women and women in, say, Texas or Georgia or some other area of the country greatly influenced by conservative religious values? Or, maybe, a comparison between Provo, Utah and those in Orange County, California (where the cost of living is significantly higher than it is un Provo)?

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