Thursday, 15 April 2010

Mommy track vs Partner track

Further evidence that gender gaps in pay for folks of identical qualifications might have absolutely nothing to do with discrimination:
My 10-year [Harvard] law school reunion fell when I was six months into my second pregnancy. I found myself rehearsing in front of a mirror a witty remark about being CEO of my household. I expected a bad-sit-com scene with the other women in my class as legal superstars and me as the lone stay-at-home mom. "They're all going to be saying I just made partner, I just got tenure," I lamented to my husband. But they didn't. At the end of the reunion evening, my classmates and I compared notes and discovered that only one woman (of the 30 or so in attendance) was still a full-time practicing attorney. "Is our whole class on the mommy track?" I wondered, a little relieved.
Curious about how my classmates were managing this tricky business of work-life balance, I conducted a little homespun survey of the 226 women in my law-school class. More than 90 percent of them responded. The responses I got varied by employment status. The full-time lawyers typically e-mailed me back right away in 20 words or less. As in, "I'm a full-time lawyer, but I don't have any children. Good luck." My stay-at-home classmates took longer to respond and wrote longer e-mails. A condensed example: "I never imagined not having a career, and certainly never would have dreamed of 'sinking so low' as to be 'just a SAHM.' So my ego took a bit of a beating, but traps to happiness come in different disguises." The classmates with mommy-track jobs responded at around 50 words. What they described wasn't Friedan's feminist nightmare: "I work part-time mostly from home. But I wouldn't say I have a 'mommy track' job. I'd say I have an interesting, innovative, flexible work arrangement I've managed to negotiate based on my considerable client base."

According to my survey, the majority of the women of the class of 1993 of Harvard Law School have left the fast track. Thirty percent of the respondents have mommy track jobs, with 21 percent working part-time and 9 percent working full-time with special arrangements like job-sharing and working nonconventional hours. Another 30 percent of the respondents stay at home, most having "off-ramped" with the expectation of going back to work when their children are older.
Any guesses about whether the next newspaper article lamenting the paucity of female Senior Partners makes any mention of this little survey? There's a good reason that economists use regression analysis controlling for time out of the workforce, among other things, rather than just comparing averages.

HT: Chris Blattman

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