New sociological research adds some nuance to earlier findings about the percentage of LDS women work outside the home.

New sociological research adds some nuance to earlier findings about the percentage of LDS women work outside the home. (Shutterstock)

In the last year I’ve come across two different and seemingly contradictory pieces of information. One states that LDS women are less likely than other U.S. women to work outside the home. The other declares that LDS women work outside the home at comparable levels to the national average.

Confused by this, I asked a friend who is a professional scholar to help me figure out which was correct. My friend pointed me to new research by BYU sociologists Cardell K. Jacobson and Tim B. Heaton for a nuanced answer.

And guess what? Both of the above statements are right.

The answer hinges on what we mean by “work.” If it’s full-time, then no; Mormon women “are only 60 percent as likely to work full time as women nationally.”

But if it’s part-time, that’s another story. Heaton and Jacobson write:

The LDS Church has long placed an emphasis on the family, and leaders have often encouraged women to stay home with their children. Thus, it is not surprising that the number of LDS women in the workforce is somewhat lower than the nation as a whole. The ARIS data show that only 25 percent of LDS women in the US work full time compared to 39 percent of all US women. The percent of  LDS women who work part time, on the other hand, is higher than women nationally (23% compared to 14%).  LDS women in the ARIS sample are also more likely to describe themselves as housewives (26% compare to 13% in the nation).*

If you add up both of the ways that women might be working — part-time and full-time — then LDS women are nearly on par with the national average (48 percent for LDS women vs. 52 percent nationally).

So, both of the opening statements are correct. LDS women are as likely to work outside the home as non-LDS women, but they are significantly less likely to work full-time.

One other note. I was concerned as I read the new research by the low percentages of LDS women who are seeking advanced or professional degrees — in Utah, only 8.3 percent of Mormon women complete a graduate education, versus 17.5 percent of non-LDS women. Outside of Utah, only 7 percent of Mormon women get an advanced degree, versus 12.9 percent of non-LDS women.

However, this information is based on a relatively small sample of Mormons, so perhaps the finding is not statistically significant.

 

 

* Tim B. Heaton and Cardell K. Jacobson, “The Social Life of Mormons,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, edited by Terryl Givens and Philip Barlow, forthcoming 2014.

9 Comments

  1. Edward Bailey

    I remember Hinckley’s talk from 2006 where he spoke about the alarming rate of women receiving degrees and graduate education. In the talk he said, “In 1950, 70 percent of those enrolled in college were males, and 30 percent were females; by 2010 projections estimate 40 percent will be males, and 60 percent will be females.” He then taunted the young men about the shame in not having a higher degree than your spouse. “I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own? We speak of being “equally yoked.” That applies, I think, to the matter of education.” I think these statements show great concern that young men could become lazy losers, so he pitted up a boy vs. PhD supergirl scenario as a means of motivation which backfires in many ways.

    • Scott Roskelley

      Why would it backfire, I don’t think Hinckley was trying to say that women should slow it down and consider exclusive homemaking over a grueling graduate program, although that’s great – he was just alarmed that perhaps young men would lose even more opportunities for marriage if they have no education, and would then stay home and devour more computer games. Considering how high the unemployment rate is for those without a degree he had a good point there. Having never lived in Utah, I am not sure of how the ward/work culture is – are employers in Utah cool with women leaving work right at 5pm, or working a more flex-time schedule? On-site daycare? In my Virginia/DC area it’s really common for women to have at least a Bachelor’s degree, with the husband having a graduate degree. Most younger husband’s I know, <40 would be 100% enthusiastic if wife applied for a graduate degree.

    • I’ve always thought we should turn that statement around, and encourage women to be equally yoke . . . that is, women should gain as much education as the type of husband they would like to marry. Equally yoked works both ways, doesn’t it? What’s good for the gander is good for the goose?

  2. Scott Roskelley

    I read somewhere that when mormons practiced polygamy that women had more opportunities for higher education than the national average? Is this correct ? -I don’t have the reference, but who better to watch your kids while going to class or work than your sister wife? There is a Boston Legal episode called “Word Salad Days” that explores a cooperative dual-wife arrangement. It was a few weeks ago that I heard about the BYU-I pathways program which provides lower cost college education for people through internet coursework. With the economic crash – a lot of people are working in unusual conditions, living with a relative, or mother unable to complete education because father has to work two jobs and others commuting long distances, or working separate or apart for months at a time to make ends meet.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been trying to solve this puzzle for a while myself, since I blog about work and family life, and I couldn’t figure out the seemingly contradictory numbers. Next on my list is figuring out why some studies show a higher than average divorce rate for Utah and some show a lower divorce rate!

  4. I think if the findings for PhD in Utah were merged with the East coast (or DC area) they would even out quite a bit. There are quite a few Masters and PhD ladies I know here. But that is ALSO true for men. There are quite a few more men with Masters and PhD on the East Coast and specifically DC metro than UT.

  5. I know many Mormon women who work full-time because they need health insurance coverage for themselves and their families, often because their husband’s employer does not provide it.

  6. While the figures are slightly disconcerting I wonder why it focuses only on advanced degrees. I would be very interested in knowing how the figures compare with bachelor level degrees.
    I would hope that the figures are much higher – which would be both encouraging and perhaps pose the further question of why so few go on to additional study.

  7. I’ve often wondered about this question so thank you for delving into it. I distinctly remember a Standards night as a youth in the very early 90s where a prophet was quoted saying that 9 out of ten women would have to provide for themselves and possibly their families at some point in their lives. I took that to heart seriously and pursued a degree later. Sadly, now a degree is not a guarantee of employment. But education is never a wasted endeavor if pursued as a love of learning. For myself, only 36, I’ve already experienced many periods of time when I’ve needed to provide for myself and my family full and part time. Among my nine siblings and spouses, all the women have or are working to support themselves or families full and part time all over the US but mostly in the West. I’m grateful that I was taught from a young age to be a nurturer and a lifelong learner so that whatever each season of life throws at me, I feel empowered to utilize my education, talents, and divine nature. I have always been fascinated by conversations with women about their expectations of themselves as mothers at home and/or at work. All of us have different paths and sharing them makes life so interesting!

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