Men and Women of the Bar: An Empirical Study of the Impact of Gender on Legal Careers
98 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2007 Last revised: 30 Jun 2013
Date Written: September 22, 2009
IIn this study, we use the University of Michigan Law School Alumni Data Set to undertake an empirical analysis of the impact of gender on the legal profession and the differences that gender makes in the careers and lives of attorneys. With regular survey responses from Michigan alumni from 1967 until the present, the University of Michigan Law School Alumni Data Set provides a unique opportunity to examine these questions from the days when female attorneys were rare, to the arrival of the first generation of women to achieve significant presence in the legal profession.
The entry of women into the legal profession has forever changed both lawyers and the legal profession. Women have brought to the profession a different set of assets and problems than men. Although there is of course tremendous overlap in personal characteristics between the genders, on average the women report that they are more desirous of social change, compassionate, honest and liberal than the men. On the other hand the men report that they have a greater desire for money and are more confident, better dealmakers and more aggressive than the women.
Moreover, because of their different roles in courtship and the family, men and women lawyers tend to have different family characteristics and tend to address the problem of accommodating work and family in different ways. The men are more likely to be married, have a spouse who focuses on childcare and have more children while the women are more likely to have a spouse with an intense job and enjoy much higher spousal income. In balancing productivity in the workplace and the home, the men work 32.7% more hours outside the home than the women fifteen years out of law school while by this same time the women are more than twelve times as likely to have taken time off from paid work to do childcare. Among the 3.2% of men and 39.6% of women who have either not worked or worked part time to do childcare by fifteen years out of law school, the average number of months they have taken reduced paid work to do childcare is 23 for the men and 58 for the women - or almost 5 years!
These differences in personal and family characteristics, and in particular whether the attorney takes time away from paid work to do childcare, can have an enormous impact on a person's career. Reflecting their different levels of desire for money and social change, and their different commitments to childcare, men are more likely to go into private practice and business, while women are more likely to go into corporate counsel positions, government work, public interest work and legal education. Within practice, men are disproportionately drawn to specialties and activities that yield high income while women are drawn to specialties and activities that yield predictable and lower hours. On average, men with children who have not taken time away from paid work to do childcare work the most hours in a year (2520) followed by men and women who do not have kids (2341), men who have taken time away from paid work to do childcare (2092), women with kids who have not taken time away from paid work to do childcare (1908) and women who have taken time away from paid work to do childcare (1328). Men are more likely to enter and stay in private practice, and to be a partner fifteen years after law school, but in taking account of family situation we find that men who have missed paid work to do childcare are the least likely group to remain in private practice and be a partner, followed by women who have missed paid work to do childcare. Our logistic regression of the probability of being a partner shows an insignificantly negative effect for being a woman, but this effect is disproportionately borne by women who do childcare who suffer a disadvantage similar to that of men who do childcare.
This myriad of decisions and events over the course of their careers results in significant differences in income and career satisfaction between men and women. Although they begin the practice of law with only a small difference in their average income, by fifteen years after law school women on average earn significantly less a year ($132,170) than men ($229,529). However, our means and regression analysis suggest that, once again, the impact of lower income is disproportionately borne by women who do childcare, who suffer a disadvantage similar to that of men who do childcare. In our regression analysis, only women who have done childcare show a significantly negative impact on income and that impact is similar to the negative impact on income suffered by men who have done childcare. However, the reward for women who do childcare is that they enjoy significantly higher career satisfaction and satisfaction with their work/family balance than the men, or the women who do not do childcare. The impact of childcare on men's career satisfaction is mixed and less clear, but men who do childcare do report being significantly more satisfied with their work/family balance than the men or women who have not missed paid work to do childcare.
Keywords: Legal Profession, Income, Job Satisfaction, Empirical, Gender, Women, Men
JEL Classification: J22, J31, J44, J71, K00, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation