Here at Indiana Law, I teach a course called The Law Firm as a Business Organization. In a nutshell, the course provides students with an overview of the historical, economic, and sociological factors that have shaped—and continue to shape—the modern legal marketplace.
This year, thanks to the dedication and hardwork of my colleagues, Ken Dau-Schmidt and Jeff Stake, my course includes extensive data on Indiana Law graduates; in other words, current IU students get to study the career trajectories of IU alumni. This has been an interesting experience as both a teacher and a researcher. The first study, which was explicitly designed to facilitate comparisons with the famous Michigan alumni dataset, is now available on SSRN: "The Pride of Indiana": An Empirical Study of the Law School Experience and Careers of Indiana University Law Alumni. (Ken and Jeff will also be presenting these results at the CELS conference in Oct.)
As we moved through some of the data last week, I noted some interesting breakdowns associated with the variable "% Spouse has intense job." This item reflects the percentage of respondents who are married to professionals with demanding jobs (e.g., other lawyers, doctors, business executives). Here is a summary of the "intense job" data along with some relevant additional variables:
As shown in the table above [click to enlarge], male and female Indiana Law graduates in both the five- and fifteen-year cohorts are fairly comparable on some dimensions (shown in blue): % married, size of families, % of spouses who are homemakers, and total household income. But there are consistent statistically significant differences along three dimensions (shown in green):
- Female IU graduates are more likely to be married to a spouse with an intense job;
- Spouses of female IU graduates make more money than the spouses of
male alumni (note, however, that the overall household incomes remain comparable);
- When it comes to childcare, female IU graduates are much more likely to exit or reduce their involvement in the workforce than male IU graduates.
Recently, there are been reports of similar data on differing marriage patterns among professional men and women (see, e.g., this NY Times story). But when examined in relation to other relevant data, the prevalence of "intense job" in female attorney households provide some useful hints on possible causal mechanisms for the persistent earnings gap among male and female attorneys, even after controlling for practice setting. A plausible theory runs something like this:
Households with male lawyers are more likely to have spouses with less demanding careers; thus, the female spouse does a disproportionate share of the domestic/childcare tasks, which frees the male attorney to focus on his career. Over the course of several years, these decisions tends to pay financial dividends for the family via the male attorney's higher income.
In contrast, households with a female attorney are more likely to involve two intense jobs, which presents difficult childcare issues. Exiting the workforce or going part-time involves a heavy financial (and long-term career) price for both parents. So how is this issue resolved? Overwhelmingly, as the Indiana Law data show, the women shoulder this burden. The alternative scenerio is that the two-career couple hire intensive childcare help (i.e., nannies) and split the remaining duties 50/50. Arguably, even this second strategy diminishes the career prospects of both the father and the mother because neither can pursue their careers at Mach 5.
Understanding these dynamics, it is possible that female attorneys, even before they have children, may select firms and practice settings that may make these future trade-offs more bearable. This would extend the gender wage gap into the years before marriage and children--an outcome consistent with the After the JD data. Obviously, additional work needs to be done, but "intense jobs" are clearly relevant for explaining the persistent gender earnings gap.