Mind the Gap: Gender Pay Disparities in the Legal Academy

47 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2020 Last revised: 3 Jun 2022

See all articles by CJ Ryan

CJ Ryan

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law; American Bar Foundation

Meghan Dawe

American Bar Foundation

Date Written: September 24, 2020


Differences in pay between women and men in the same jobs have captured the public’s attention in recent years. However, public interest in and press coverage of salary differences on the basis of gender—or any other ascriptive class—in the learned professions are wanting. Moreover, few studies have spoken directly on the gender pay disparities in the legal academy, despite emerging evidence of it at multiple law schools. In this Article, we use a unique dataset, drawn from the only nationally representative survey to date of tenured law professors in the United States, to track how gender and race are tied to salary outcomes. But we look beyond the raw differences in salary, probing the mechanisms that undergird gendered pay inequities.

Part I of this Article introduces the concepts of human capital and social capital as important factors underpinning inequalities in outcomes for the legal profession. We then provide an overview of how careers in law—and particularly in the legal academy—are stratified by access to social capital and returns to human capital. In Part II, we introduce the After Tenure survey, from which our data originate. Next, we describe our analytical approach, examining the demography of the legal academy and the legal profession more broadly to discuss the ways in which law professors experience their jobs differently along lines of gender and race. In Part III, we provide evidence of gendered earnings disparities among tenured law professors that is particularly acute for women of color. We conclude by demonstrating how these disparities stem from the differential valuation of human capital.

Keywords: pay gap, gender, race, legal academy, tenured law professors, human capital, social capital, returns to education

JEL Classification: A14, B23, C21, D31, D63, D82, E24, I23, I24, I26, J15, J16, J24, J31, J44, J71, K31, K39, L89, M52

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Christopher and Dawe, Meghan, Mind the Gap: Gender Pay Disparities in the Legal Academy (September 24, 2020). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Volume 34, 567-612 (2021)., Roger Williams Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 207, University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2022-3, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3699208

Christopher Ryan (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
4th Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Meghan Dawe

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics