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Study highlights disparities for Oklahoma women

Dr. Laura Ahlstrom's research led to the creation of the Status of Women in Oklahoma report.
Dr. Laura Ahlstrom's research led to the creation of the Status of Women in Oklahoma report.

If current wage gap trends continue in Oklahoma, women will not receive equal pay until 2076.

This is one figure from the Status of Women in Oklahoma research study that United We, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, and Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business conducted. The study covers topics impacting women like employment and earnings, poverty, childcare and civic engagement.

Women in Oklahoma earned an average of 74.5 cents to every dollar men earned from 2015-2019. That's 6.3 cents lower than the U.S. average, according to the study. Laura Ahlstrom, lead researcher on the study and economic professor at OSU, said this is worse for women of color and worrying because the number of female breadwinners is increasing in the state.

“Approximately six in 10 of the minimum wage workers in the state are women,” Ahlstrom said. “So, this gender earnings gap is something that’s concerning, and it seems it be, unfortunately, kind of getting worse.”

The state also has the second-highest number of uninsured women in the nation. When Oklahoma implemented Medicaid expansion, Ahlstrum said it was fairly successful in enrolling more people.

Additionally, childcare in the state, on average, is more expensive than a year of in-state tuition at a four-year public college. Ahlstrom said the number of childcare facilities are not up to pre-pandemic levels and 55% of Oklahomans live in a childcare desert.

Ahlstrom said this is one of the statistics that surprised her.

“I had no idea that, you know, that it would cost approximately 70% of a single parent’s income to have two children in childcare,” Ahlstrom said. “And I think that that’s something that really resonated with me, and I think that’s something the state could do better with.”

The study also touches on civics. More women vote than men in the state, but overall voter turnout is low. About one-fifth of Oklahoma legislators were women in 2021, which is also less than the national average.

Although Ahlstrom looked at ethnicity and race concerning the gender earnings gap, she said this study is focused on gender comparisons. Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United We, said some of this information was not available.

“Data collection within where we have access to, some of this public information, is simply not collected,” Doyle said.

Read the full study here.

Editor's note: The Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University is a financial supporter of KOSU.

Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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