If a recent WalletHub study is accepted uncritically, then Utah is the worst state where women could live in the U.S. But that’s just a single story about Utah. The real story is far more complicated.

While Utah, like many states, has room for improvement when it comes to addressing disparities, the Beehive State also offers women ample opportunity for affordable education, career choice, entrepreneurship and upward mobility, high social capital rates, low rates of poverty and positive family life.

The ‘Utah family miracle’ and why it matters

The WalletHub study evaluated women’s equality based on three factors they characterize as workplace environment, education and health and political empowerment. The study highlighted some areas where Utah could improve, such as the average eighth grade math score (Utah girls scored above the national average, but lower than the average Utah boy) and representation of women in politics.

But the study didn’t show the complete picture of what it’s like to be a woman in Utah. For one, women in Utah are more likely than the average woman in the U.S. and Utah men to have a bachelor’s degree, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. And Utah offers more affordable higher education than most other states.

Utah’s rate of educational attainment for women is lower when it comes to graduate school, but some women choose not to attend graduate school for a variety of personal reasons such as starting a family, and Utah has one of the highest rates of family formation in the country.

Women who choose different schooling based on deciding to start a family may also choose different careers, too. And these careers tend to come with more flexible schedules and on average lower salaries, Harvard economist Claudia Goldin told NPR.

Utah women also are more likely than women in any other state to choose part-time work, according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. While there should be ample opportunity for women who want to obtain graduate degrees and pursue various careers, it shouldn’t be seen as a negative when women choose otherwise.

More often, Utah’s thriving economy offers more choice to women. The state ranked in 2023 as the No. 1 state in the country overall and for economy and fiscal stability, according to U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. And on a variety of levels, U.S. News and World Report ranked Utah the best state overall in 2023.

While the WalletHub study was right to point out a gender wage gap like the rest of the country also has, the study didn’t take into account Utah’s success when it comes to upward mobility. In fact, if a girl grows up the greater Salt Lake City area, she’s likely to make 15.3% more than a girl living elsewhere, per The Equality of Opportunity Project.

This makes Salt Lake City, Utah, one of the most upwardly mobile areas in the country for girls.

Women entrepreneurs in the Beehive State should also be given their due. Utah has been ranked No. 6 in the country for women-owned businesses and the state’s capital Salt Lake City has been ranked No. 1 in “the growth of employment vitality in women-owned businesses,” per a Utah Women & Leadership Project report.

Why Latter-day Saints and mainline Protestants have the highest social capital rates

Furthermore, Utah ranks first in the nation for social capital, according to The Social Capital Index. Social capital is a way of measuring the health of relationships in society. Family formation, participation in congregations, volunteering and other community actives positively impact social capital rates. In turn, social capital can also contribute to increased social mobility.

Utah has a high social capital score due, in part, to high rates of family unity, social support, volunteerism and philanthropy. High social capital rates tend to improve overall wellbeing. Living in an area with health communities and strong families provides women (and men) with increased stability and greater opportunities.

Gov. Cox answers the question: What makes Utah the best state in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report?

The strong families in Utah are critical for providing women (and men) with better lives. The Beehive State has the highest percentage of married couples in the country, Brad Wilcox, Patrick T. Brown and Jenet Erickson wrote for the Deseret News. The fertility rates are high and most children are raised in married-couple families, which benefits children as well as women.

Another reason for strong families and high social capital rates is due to the high rates of religiosity. Highly-religious marriages offers benefits to women, like men taking on a larger share of the housework and married religious women having more satisfaction in their relationships, even when it comes to physical intimacy.

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Utahns also experience much lower rates of poverty (8.9% in Utah compared to 12.3% around the country). Stable marriages and families also correlate to higher rates of higher education, median income and employment rates for women, per a Pew Research report. Marriage also contributes to higher levels of lifetime happiness.

“In fact, research indicates the most powerful predictor of adult happiness in America is the quality of men’s and women’s marriages,” Wilcox, Brown and Erickson wrote.

Living in an area where families are the norm not only contributes to the immediate wellbeing of women and men, but it provides healthy life scripts that empower people to make choices supporting more positive outcomes, too.

So, perhaps it’s time to retire the limiting narrative that Utah is a bastion for women’s inequality and instead, see the Beehive State for what it is — a place providing women and men with opportunity and choice in families and careers.

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