The Utah Women & Leadership Project has started a new series of Utah Women Stats research snapshots with the goal of providing specific, timely data on a series of issues relevant to Utah women. In November of 2016, we released the following two: Poverty Among Utah Women and Sexual Assault Among Utah Women. The following article has been adapted from these reports and we, as authors, hope it is useful for those interested in learning more about the status of women in Utah—both LDS and non-LDS. While Mormon women in Utah are not singled out specifically in these reports, we believe that the data here are valuable to the SquareTwo audience as they give a sense of what Utah women (many of whom are LDS) are facing in terms of these serious issues.

The original snapshots, along with other briefs and snapshots can be found on the Project’s website: http://www.uvu.edu/uwlp/ . We begin by sharing data on poverty among Utah women and then will share data on sexual assault among Utah women. We will then share a few thoughts in conclusion.


Although Utahans in general experience lower rates of poverty than the national average (11.3% in Utah vs. 14.7% nationwide), [1] Utah women are more likely than Utah men to live in poverty, especially women who are heads of households and/or single parents.[2] Many factors influence the levels of poverty among Utah women. The gender wage gap in Utah is one of the highest in the nation; [3] women are much more likely to work minimum wage jobs, [4] and women in Utah have lower levels of educational achievement—particularly at the bachelor’s degree level and higher—than women across the nation. [5] Utah women within specific demographics (including certain ethnic and racial groups) are even more likely to experience poverty. [6]

This section highlights 1) statistics surrounding Utah women in poverty, 2) factors that contribute to poverty, and 3) current efforts to reduce poverty among Utah women.

Poverty Rates: Demographics

Overall, women in Utah live in poverty at a lower rate than the national average: Utah women (12.2%) vs. U.S. women (16%), and census data for 2015 ranks Utah 12th in the nation for the percentage of people living above the poverty line. [7] However, when broken down by specific demographic factors, the poverty rates are notably worse for certain groups. In Utah, minority women are much more likely to live in poverty, as shown here by ethnic group: Black (20.3%), Asian/Pacific Islander (21.3%), “Other” or two or more races (21.3%), Hispanic (25.9%), and Native American (36.1%). In each one of these specific groups, Utah women are living in poverty at higher percentages than Utah men. [8]

Other demographic factors, including age, location of residence (rural/urban), and individual living situation can also influence the way Utah women experience poverty. For example, in the United States, women over 65 are more likely to be impoverished than men their age, 12.1% vs. 7.4%, respectively. [9] The higher incidence of poverty among female seniors exists in Utah as well: 8.9% of Utah women over 65 live below the poverty line vs. 4.4% of Utah men. [10] Experts attribute some of this disparity to the fact that many women who are now retired worked lower-wage jobs and were less likely to be eligible for retirement benefits. Those factors, combined with women’s generally longer life span, contribute to Utah women seniors’ higher poverty rates. [11]

Women living in more rural areas may also be at greater risk of poverty. While Utah counties cannot be defined as strictly rural or urban, [12] poverty rates among women are slightly higher in counties that are generally considered to be rural and have a population below 20,000 (15.4% vs. 13.9% for counties with a population over 20,000). In addition, the least populous counties show both extremes in the percentage of women living in poverty, with the smallest percentage (4.3% in Morgan) and the largest percentages (28.4% in San Juan and 30.7% in Piute). [13] Those living in rural communities may also face additional challenges with regards to accessing affordable services. One recent report showed that only 65% of women living in more rural counties (as defined above) received prenatal care, vs. 76% of women living in urban areas (counties with populations above 65,000). The report also revealed that 49% of children living in rural counties were eligible for free or reduced school lunch, as opposed to 42% and 36% of children living in mid-sized or large counties, respectively. [14]

But beyond age or place of residence, the demographic factor that is perhaps most striking when considering Utah women’s poverty rates is the designation of woman “head of household” with no spouse present. Overall, in Utah, 28.9% of female-headed households are in poverty; when children under age 18 are present, the percentage goes up to 37.5%, and when children under age 5 only are present in these homes, the poverty rate is 46.9%. These rates for Utah women heads of household are roughly in line with national averages. Yet these high poverty rates are in stark contrast with Utah women living in married couple families: overall, only 6.0% of such families live in poverty. When related children under 18 are present that number goes up to 7.9%, and when children under age 5 only are present, the poverty rates for married couple households is 8.1%. [15]

Factors Contributing to Poverty

Many factors contribute to Utah’s gender disparity in poverty rates. For example, education gaps may play a role. Women in Utah are graduating with bachelor’s degrees at a rate almost 10% lower than women in the nation as a whole (49% vs. 58.5%). [16] In addition, there is a gap in the population between the overall education levels for Utah women vs. Utah men, particularly at the bachelor’s degree level. In Utah, only 28% of Utah women hold a bachelor’s degree vs. 33% of Utah men. By contrast, nationally, roughly the same percentage of men and women hold bachelor’s degrees (about 29%). [17] This education gap is significant, because it seems to exacerbate our already substantial wage gap. In Utah, at every educational level, men earn more than women who have achieved a higher level of education (men with a high school diploma earn more than women with an associate’s degree, men with a bachelor’s earn more than women with a graduate degree, and so forth). [18] Lower education levels can lead to lower wages and higher rates of poverty.

In addition to educational inequities, numerous employment factors can influence Utah women’s poverty rates. Utah has one of the highest gender wage gaps in the nation; one recent report ranks Utah as 48th out of 50 states and D.C. [19] Another contributing factor is likely the large number of Utah women working in low-wage jobs. One study shows Utah women hold 65% of low-wage jobs (defined as those paying $10.10 per hour or less), despite comprising only 44.4% of the total workforce. Those numbers show Utah is fairly close to national averages, as women nationwide make up 65.9% of the low-wage workforce while comprising only 47.3% of the overall workforce. [20] Occupational segregation may also play a role, as many employed women in the state are concentrated in several lower-paid occupational groups, such as office and administrative support positions (in which 24% of Utah women work) and service occupations (held by 18.8% of employed Utah women). Utah men, on the other hand, are more likely than Utah women to be concentrated in higher-paying industries and job types. [21] Utah is also ranked first in the nation for the number of employed women who work part time at 40.2% (national average is 29.4%). Part-time workers are less likely to receive employer provided benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off; these factors can further decrease financial stability. [22]

There are significant hurdles for employed Utah women attempting to escape poverty, especially those who are working in lower-wage jobs. Utah, like the rest of the nation, faces a shortage of high-quality, affordable childcare. In Utah, the typical annual cost of childcare for a 4-year-old is higher than a year’s tuition at college ($6,612 vs. $5,656). Childcare costs hit lower-income women and families particularly hard, as they pay a higher percentage of their total income on childcare. [23] Another serious barrier to climbing out of poverty, for women nationally and in Utah, is a phenomenon known as the “cliff effect.” Low-income women, both employed and unemployed, often qualify for a number of state-sponsored benefits (e.g., food stamps, housing support, and childcare and healthcare subsidies). As women living in poverty begin to advance in their employment and receive wage increases, these benefits are automatically reduced—sometimes eliminated all at once—at a rate much faster than the increased compensation can replace. Some women refuse pay increases because their actual financial position after the loss of benefits will be worse. [24]

Efforts to Address Poverty in Utah

Utahans are concerned about poverty in their state. According to a 2016 survey by the Utah Foundation, “Homelessness and Poverty” is the ninth most important issue for Utah voters as a whole. [25] Poverty is related to many key factors of overall well-being within any state: homelessness, hunger, access to health care, educational success, mental health, and physical safety, among others. Because of these interrelated factors, Utahans recognize the need to reduce poverty rates.

Legislative efforts to address poverty issues have been in place for several years. In 2012 Utah passed the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act, a major initiative launched to “identify groups that have a high risk of experiencing intergenerational poverty” and “help individuals and families in the state to break the cycle of poverty.” [26] Not surprisingly, 68% of the adult cohort members of this program are women, [27] a fact that underscores the serious nature of female poverty in the state.

A large number of public and non-profit agencies work together to combat poverty among women (and others) in Utah. Organizations support impoverished Utahans in a wide variety of areas, beginning with programs to address immediate needs for food, shelter, and clothing, as well as providing safe havens for people whose personal safety is at risk. There are also many groups that provide long-term support for more permanent changes that support individual and family well-being, including educational resources for both children and adults, employment training and mentoring, and assistance into permanent housing. One challenge is ensuring that our most vulnerable residents have a means of locating and utilizing these resources.


Nearly one in two women in the U.S. will experience some form of sexual violence victimization in her lifetime (broadly defined), and Utah has the same overall rate. [28] According to the most recent Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice report, when considering more specific definitions, one in three Utah women has been sexually assaulted, and one in six women report having been raped. [29] In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, rape occurs in Utah at a rate higher than the national average. [30] Hence, sexual assault is a serious problem within the state.

The state of Utah recognizes sexual violence as a significant threat to public health that carries lifelong consequences for the safety and well-being of Utah citizens. [31] Public awareness of sexual assault has increased in recent years, but there is still much that needs to be done to decrease sexual assault rates and thereby improve the health and well-being of Utah women.

This section highlights overall sexual assault facts and statistics in Utah, campus sexual assault, and the financial and well-being costs of sexual assault in the state.

Utah Sexual Assault Statistics

Sexual assault is defined as any form of forced or coerced sexual contact without consent, including (but not limited to) rape, incest, molestation, oral sex, harassment, lewdness, forcing a person to take sexual pictures, or unwanted touching. Rape is a specific form of sexual assault and is defined in Utah as sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent. [32] Rape is the only violent crime for which Utah’s rate is higher than the national average, and this has been the case for the past 25 years. For all other types of violent offenses (murder, robbery, and aggravated assault), Utah’s rate is notably lower than the national average. [33]

Another important factor is that rape often goes unreported. Nationally, about one-third of sexual assault victims (34%) report the crime to law enforcement; [34] in Utah, according to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, only 11.8% of women report sexual assault to law enforcement. [35] Additionally, a 2016 study found that 61.8% of rape kits in Utah are not submitted by law enforcement to the state crime lab for testing. [36] These statistics indicate sexual violence in Utah may be substantially underestimated and that the investigation and prosecution of these crimes is often not being pursued.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 18.1% of Utah women have been raped, with nearly half of Utah’s female population (47.8%) having experienced some form of sexual violence in her lifetime other than rape. [37] It is important to note that these numbers may be different from those in other local reports because they provide information on women with victimization histories who are currently living in the state of Utah even though the sexual assault may have occurred elsewhere. Similar to other crimes, The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women reports that the incidence of someone falsely reporting a rape or sexual assault is very low (between 2–10%). [38]

Most sexual assaults (between 80–90%) are committed by male perpetrators whom the victim knows. [39] In fact, one report—Rape in Utah 2007: A Survey of Utah Women—states that only 13.3% of Utah victims are assaulted by a stranger. [40] Weapons are rarely used in sexual assaults (less than 10%); [41] however, victims still suffer some form of physical injury in approximately 27% of reported cases in Utah. Only 12.7% of victims of sexual assault in Utah seek medical care following an attack. [42]

Unfortunately, many victims of sexual assault and sexual violence in Utah are children, and they are most likely to be victimized by a family member. [43] Females are more likely to report childhood sexual violence than males. [44] Nationally, according to a CDC report, one in four women are sexually abused before the age of 18; in Utah, nearly 13% of the population reports being molested before the age of 18. [45] Over three-fourths of all sexual assault victims in Utah (78.7%) reported being sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday, with more than one-third of these victims (34.9%) stating they were assaulted before their 10th birthday. [46]

Campus Sexual Assault

Campus sexual assault is currently a serious concern across the country, and Utah is no exception. There are ten major public and not-for-profit colleges and universities in the state, and each must report sexual assault crimes and arrests to the federal government, as required by the Clery Act. [47] However, these numbers include only reported assaults that occur on the school’s campus or campus-owned property. According to each school’s most recent Clery Report, [48] the following are the number of reported occurrences of sexual assault that adhere to the parameters of the Clery Act: