Anyway, a post-doc fellow in the social sciences named Jane Leber Herr (if you assume her name is German and translate it, you get “Jane Liver Lord,” which is terribly funny to me for some reason) on fellowship at the University of Chicago recently completed a study on the different levels of opting-out among women with different professional degrees: MDs, JDs, PhDs, and MBAs.
I think the study is quite interesting, but I have a quibble with the lead-in sentence: Highly educated women tend to opt out of the labour force at motherhood. That’s a weirdly sloppy generalization, especially considering that a few paragraphs later, the study notes that according to 2000 census data:
91% of doctors continue working, compared to 80% of lawyers and 78% of managers
So, between 1/10th and 1/5th of professional women–that is, not even close to a majority–leaving the working world equals women “tending” to opt out? It’s just as unhelpful as that notorious NYT article from 2003 (wow, that makes me feel old) by Lisa Belkin that made it seem like women are leaving the professions in droves–just cuz, ya know. That gets my hackles up, when really, this study might have something useful to tell us. So let’s look further.
Among mothers with a graduate degree, MDs are the most likely to be working (94%), and MBAs are the least likely (72%).2 Among PhDs, 86% are working, among lawyers (JDs), 79%, among women with non-MBA masters, 74%, and among those with no graduate degree, 69%.
So it does seem education beyond a Bachelor’s degree will keep a woman in the workforce longer or more consistently. And not just because women have invested more in their professional training. Leber Herr seems to believe that it is the “family friendliness” of the workplace environment that leads to a 10% increase the likelihood of women staying employed.
Say it with me now: “durrrrrr.” Still, I can appreciate hard data, and the conclusion that highly-educated mother’s participation in paid professions is likely curtailed by systems that rely on an outdated, Dr. Laura-approved model of gendered work and family life that is “the way we never were” (I highly suggest you read Stephanie Coontz’s study by that very title).
If we actually value children, marriages, and families, rather than just paying them lip service, we might consider revamping our professions to include policies that protect and promote responsible business and responsible parenthood for both mothers and fathers.
I’m somewhat surprised that the medical profession is more family-friendly than the academy or law, actually. I’m not surprised about MBAs, though. We’ve got a lot of professional harpies here–whether or not you’ve got kids, what do you see going on in your fields?