Sep 28, 2023 - News

More Utah moms are working after having babies

Data: U.S. Census; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

More moms in Utah are going to work less than a year after giving birth, new census data show.

  • But Utah remains slower to send moms back to work than the rest of the country.

By the numbers: In 2022, about 56% of Utah women who gave birth within the previous year were in the labor force, a lower percentage than any state except Alaska, according to census data released last month.

  • That's an increase of about 3% from 2010 — about half the rate of increase nationally.

Zoom out: By contrast, 67% of U.S. women who gave birth were working within the year in 2022, up from just under 62% in 2010.

  • But eight states saw the percentage of working new moms decline over the same 12-year period — Utah wasn't one of them.

Between the lines: Most Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith whose leaders historically discouraged mothers from working outside the home.

  • Members have described a stigma against women who pursue careers.
  • Having one stay-at-home parent while the other works full time is the most-desired family arrangement, according to statewide polling in 2022; two parents working full time was the least desired.

The intrigue: It's unclear how much of the increase may be linked to the state becoming less Mormon over the same timeframe, or whether Latter-day Saint mothers are more likely to work while parenting young children.

Zoom in: Workforce participation rates in the Provo-Orem metro area — Utah and Juab Counties — could provide a clue.

  • The metro area is home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of Latter-day Saints.
  • The share of mothers working there less than 12 months after giving birth rose 8.7% since 2010, more than the 5.9% drop in the Mormon population share during roughly the same timeframe.
  • Meanwhile, work rates for new moms held within a percentage point over the same 12 years in the Salt Lake and Ogden metros — populations that were significantly less Mormon than Provo-Orem is now.

Of note: The census figures don't differentiate between part-time and full-time work.

Context: Remote and flexible work is making it easier for new moms to juggle both parenting and careers, Axios' Emily Peck has reported.

Yes, but: Pandemic-era federal funding for child care centers is drying up.

  • 70,000 child care centers, looking after 3.2 million children, may close after the funding runs out, according to an estimate from The Century Foundation.

What we're watching: Whether the scarcity and skyrocketing cost of child care ultimately neutralizes Utah's unique religious factors.

  • If that expense wipes out a parent's earnings, it's often mothers who wind up staying home because they're likely making less.
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