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Study shows data on Pacific Islander women in Utah

By Genelle Pugmire - | Apr 14, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Birdie Schwenke dances with other members of Tausala Productions Utah during the Utah Pasifika Festival on Saturday, May 27, 2017, in downtown Provo.

Utah ranks 34th most racially and ethnically diverse state in the nation, with 22% of the state identifying as “other than non-Hispanic White,” according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Now, the Utah Women and Leadership Project is releasing a series of studies focused on women of Utah across a range of ethnicities.

“As the UWLP focuses on strengthening the impact of all Utah girls and women, research that increases our understanding of the status and experiences of girls and women within all social and identity groups — including race and ethnicity — is crucial,” a statement from the research snapshot said.

The snapshot is the first in a series that detail available data on Utah women of each Census race/ethnic category: Pacific Islander, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American.

The data presented includes information from, among other sources, the 5-year U.S. Census Microdata, the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Department of Corrections and a number of Utah Department of Health offices including Health Disparities, Vital Records and Statistics and Public Health Assessment.

Grant Hindsley, Daily Herald file photo

Tiana Matua-Sekona has donations thrown at her on stage in the final act of a Samoan dancing show at the Utah Pasifika Festival in 2014 in downtown Provo.

The first in the series from UWLP is on Pacific Islander women. Available demographic data on Pacific Islander Utah women include population size, household size, family household type, marital status and religious affiliation.

Population Size: According to the UWLP, the Utah Pacific Islander population has been relatively stable over time, comprising around 1% of the Utah population. In 2010, there were 24,307 Utahns identifying as Pacific Islanders — by 2020 the number had increased to 32,739.

“Population demographers project slight growth through 2065, at which point Pacific Islanders are expected to make up 1.2% of Utah’s population,” the study reports. “Currently, 13,921 Pacific Islander women reside in Utah, which represents 0.45% of the general Utah population and is larger than the 0.09% share of the general US population.”

Household Size: The average household size of Pacific Islander women in Utah is 4.1 people, larger than the average of 3.4 across the U.S. The average for Utah women is 3.0 and 2.5 for women across the United State, according to the Census and available data.

Family Household Type: Almost three quarters (73.1%) of Utah Pacific Islander households consist of married couple families, compared to 81.7% of all Utah families and 65.6% of U.S. Pacific Islanders. Of Pacific Islander households, 18.7% are led by women with no spouse present — 12.3% for Utah women and 22.7% for U.S. Pacific Islander women.

Jordan Stead, Daily Herald file photo

Aloha Dance School member Maaola Stowers, center, smiles into the sun before her performance at the second annual Pasifika Festival Friday, May 18, 2012, at Provo High School.

Marital Status: Just over 49% of Pacific Islander women in Utah are married, which is similar to all U.S. women at 48.7%, but lower than all Utah women which was measured at 56.9%. Almost 37% have never been married compared to 27.3% for all Utah women and 30.4% for all U.S. women.

Utah Pacific Islander women have similar separation rates to all Utah women (1.9% and 1.6%) as well as rates of widowhood (6.1% and 5.6%). However, divorce rates for Pacific Islander women in Utah are much lower than for all Utah women (6.1% and 10.2%). That trend holds nationally as well, where 8.8% of U.S. Pacific Islander women are divorced compared to 12.1% of all U.S. women, according to the research.

Because Utah ranks fifth among states with the largest Pacific Islander population, recent studies by the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Health Disparities give particular attention toward the female Pacific Islander population. Findings from a recent survey of Utah’s Pacific Islander population indicate that the disparate health rates of this population may be underestimated.

Pacific Islander women in Utah are more likely to lack health insurance (17.5%) than Utah women in general (11.2%). Further, they face greater barriers to medical care, with 25.7% reporting that they forgo medical care due to cost, as opposed to 13.8% of Utah women overall, and having no personal doctor (27.7% for Utah Pacific Islander women compared to 20.2% for Utah women), according to research from Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

According to the data, Utah Pacific Islander women fare better in mental health outcomes than Utah women as a whole. They are less likely to report bad mental health (20.5% compared to 23.6% of all Utah women) or have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (14.5% compared to 29.7% of all Utah women).

As for education, Madsen’s team reports that Pacific Islander women in Utah end their education with a high school diploma (32.6%) more than Utah women generally (23.8%), and they have lower rates of receiving bachelor’s degrees (18.1% compared to 29% of all Utah women). Among those ages 18-35 in 2018, Utah Pacific Islander women had the lowest enrollment rate of all subgroups at 8.5% in contrast to the Utah female average of 12.5%. The 5-year average completion rates of college-enrolled Pacific Islander women in Utah aged 18-35 is 22.3%, compared to all Utah women at 27.9%.

When it comes to finances, Madsen and UWLP reports that the median personal income for Utah Pacific Islander women ($20,670) is on par with the median income for Utah women generally ($19,245). Nationally, though, women on average report a higher median income, at $23,106, than Pacific Islander women at $20,447.

Pacific Islander women in Utah also face greater rates of poverty (11.8% compared to 10.8% of all Utah women), which is commensurate with national trends.

Utah Pacific Islander women earn $0.55 on the dollar compared to white Utah men, compared to $0.70 for all Utah women. Nationally, Pacific Islander women earn $0.63 cents on the dollar to white men, the study reveals.

“Although we were able to find existing data regarding the general demographics, health, wellbeing, education, and income and employment of Utah Pacific Islander women, usable information was not available in many of the categories we hoped to collect, such as housing, transportation, domestic violence, unpaid labor, caregiver status, childcare accessibility, civic engagement, and food insecurity,” the research team said.

Research was done under the direction of Madsen. Her team included the following students and community members for their assistance: Tatiana Leroy, Ciriac Alvarez, Melissa Hagan, Amber Stargell, and Anneka Cole.

“This demonstrates both a data gap and an opportunity for Utah universities, government, nonprofit, and other entities to do more to collaborate, gather, and report quality data that can help government, education, business, and nonprofit leaders and decision markers understand more deeply the circumstances and needs of Utah’s Pacific Islander women,” Madsen said.


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