The (in)equality of women in Idaho

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Earlier this week marked the 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women across the country the right to vote. To coincide with the anniversary, one organization has taken a comprehensive look at the evolution of women’s equality in the U.S.—including executive positions held, educational gaps, political power and pay gaps—and found that Idaho ranks overall at the bottom of the field. Only Utah scored worse.

“We broke it up into three different categories,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for Wallet Hub. “Workplace environment, educational ranking and political empowerment. Idaho fared worst in education.”

Gonzalez said the survey looked at a subset of math test scores for boys and girls, at the fourth grade level, and again at grade eight. The highest gap in grade four was 2%, meaning that males scored 2% better on their scores. The differential ranked Idaho dead last in education.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that gap has been closed so much over the past five decades, two percent is actually a very high number,” said Gonzalez.

By grade eight, the gap was closed to just 0.3% differential, ranking Idaho at 37th.

“In higher education, the gap is right around 2% again,” said Gonzalez. “Only Utah had more of a gap at 5%. Other places, like Alaska, have a 5% gap in the opposite direction.”

When asked if there were any trends or indications to the data, Gonzalez said, “A lot of people ask if the low rankings are all from southern states, or at the top if they come from the northeast … but we do have these little pockets spurning up—Idaho, Utah, Wyoming. The one thing they all have in common starts with educational ranking. It’s a snowball effect. The more women with bachelor’s degrees, the better positions they will have in relation to their male counterparts.”

Another point that has been brought up before is the higher saturation of religious households in Idaho and Utah, particularly Mormons, who have traditionally believed a woman’s place is at home, raising the children.

“That could skew the numbers Idaho and Utah had,” said Gonzalez. “Idaho and Utah had the biggest and largest gaps between men and women bachelor’s degree holders.”

The survey also took a look at gaps in pay between women and men. Nationwide, women make 79 cents on the dollar compared to men.

“In Idaho, surprisingly, although it has a pretty high executive gap, the pay gap was one of the lowest we saw at just 12.4%,” said Gonzalez.

The absolute lowest was Vermont, with women earning only 8.7% less than men. The highest? Wyoming at 31.4%. This means that Wyoming women earn 69 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.

The survey’s intention was to open the nation’s eyes in regards to women’s equality, nearly 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Though women’s rights in the U.S. has grown in leaps and bounds since 1920, many women still struggle today in cracking the glass ceiling. Nationwide, the gender gap is still a chasm. In 2014, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. It even lagged behind several developing nations such as Burundi, Latvia, Nicaragua and the Philippines, with a primary area of weakness in health and political empowerment.

According to the Center for American Progress, women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.”

Even though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, not a single woman in these fields is head honcho of her company.”

“This is the time to really look into this,” said Gonzalez. “We have women running for office right now. The issues are coming up in debates and on the campaign trail.”

One bright spot in the survey was Idaho’s unemployment rate for women, which ranked as the lowest in the nation.

“We want to shine a light on the states that are doing better,” said Gonzalez, “and maybe bring up some things in those states who aren’t, especially for the women in those states working the same hours as their male counterparts.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, is one female politician in Idaho who strives to point out that though they are underrepresented, women have remained a crucial part of the political process.

“Idaho has many very talented women in leadership roles, whether in the Legislature, running political campaigns, running elected officials offices and serving as the elected officials regional representatives and more,” said Keough. “Idaho’s budget committee, which some say is the ‘most powerful’ committee in the Legislature—for the first time in history—is now co-chaired by two women.  We may be outnumbered but women are very much in key leadership roles in the political circles and power spots of Idaho.”

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