The level of religious activity in a state can have a significant effect on the wage gap between men and women in that state, according to a report released by the Economic Policy Institute last week.
Utah, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana – among the most religious states, according to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year – have some of the highest gender pay-gaps in the US.
The pay gap between men and women is 75.3 percent in Utah, which means a woman makes 75.3 cents to every dollar a man makes. Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi have pay-gaps of 77.5 percent, 79.2 percent, and 83.5 percent respectively.
Washington, D.C. has the smallest pay gap in the country at 92.9 percent.
“When you live in an area that has a bigger focus on religion and traditional gender roles, sometimes there can be biases in place where girls are pushed to pursue the humanities, and boys are taught to pursue math and science,” Elise Gould, the report’s principal author, told Business Insider.
That can lead to women going to college and pursuing professions in fields that are more female-dominated and have traditionally paid less than fields that are more male-dominated, Gould added.
Traditional expectations – which are often more pronounced in religious communities – can influence career choices that exacerbate pay gaps. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study cited by EPI found that “parents are more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields, even when their daughters performed at the same level in mathematics.”
Stereotypical gender roles play a part as well. In areas where people were more likely to say that women are suited to stay home and “math is for boys,” girls were more likely to have lower scores on math tests, according to a Journal of Economic Perspectives study cited in the report.
The states with the largest gender discrepancy in math and science test scores were Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, according to the study. Those states, with the exception of Kentucky, were found to have some of the highest levels of stereotypical gender differences, in addition to states like Utah and Louisiana.
There is not a direct correlation however. Tennessee has one of the better pay-gaps in the US with 87.9 percent. And a number of states with a high wage gap are not significantly religious, like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, which have pay gaps of 80 percent, 79 percent, and 80.1 percent respectively.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to this discrepancy.
Women in less religious states may pursue higher-level jobs because of more equal expectations with their male counterparts. However, jobs at the higher-end of the ladder tend to have larger gender pay gaps – the report says that on a national scale, women are paid 74 percent of what their male counterparts make in such jobs. Lower tier jobs tend to have much smaller pay gaps – the report says women are paid 92 percent in those jobs.
The smaller gap for frontline workers, such as workers in the sales and service industries who deal directly with customers, may explain Tennessee, which is among the most religious states in the nation, according to the Gallup poll, and has one of the smallest pay gaps.
If women are expected, from a young age, to pursue fields that have traditionally been more female-dominated and on the lower end of the ladder, they would have more pay equity relative to their male counterparts in the same job.
“It’s very possible that people in an area with higher religiosity would seek out more gendered professions because of expectations regarding what fields they should pursue and how well they should perform…and in many cases, those expectations are eventually borne out,” Gould said.
Religiosity is not the only factor that influences the gender pay gap; the report cites other contributors such as the type of industries in a state, as well as whether it is rural or urban, as rural states are more likely to have higher pay gaps than are urban states.
Wyoming has the highest gender pay gap in the nation and is among the least religious states, according to the Gallup poll. However, over 91 percent of land in Wyoming is classified as rural, and 35.2 percent of its population is rural as well, according to 2010 census data. West Virginia, the third most rural state in the country, has a population that is 51.3 percent rural, and has one of the highest pay gaps.
Conversely, Washington, D.C., which has the smallest gender pay gap in the nation, has a population that is 100 percent urban, leading every other U.S. state in the category.