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August 2002, Vol. 125, No. 8
The influx of women into legal professions: an economic analysisJoe G. Baker
The year 2001 was a watershed year in legal education. For the first time, female law school entrants outnumbered men.1 This event is the culmination of a trend over the last half-century which saw the legal profession experience rapid increases in the number and percent of women receiving law degrees. At the same time, a large body of literature documented a "second class" professional status of women in the legal field. If women are treated so poorly in the legal profession, why do they find it an attractive career choice?
Previous examinations of the status of women in law have compared female to male law graduates. This research examines the proposition that the correct economic comparison, especially from an occupational choice standpoint, is not between genders within a profession but the relative desirability across professions for women. As such, this article compares the relative economic rewards to women of four professional degrees: law, medicine, M.B.A.s, and social science/psychology doctorates.
Background and literature review
Chart 1 compares the relative share of degrees awarded to women from 1966 to 1996 (indexed to 100.0 in 1966) for five "reference" professions (law, medicine, M.B.A.s, social science Ph.D.s, and psychology Ph.D.s). Women have increased their share of total law degrees by almost twelve-fold (in 1966, only 3.8 percent of law degrees were awarded to women; in 1996, this statistic was 43.5 percent).2 In terms of the relative growth of women in the profession, law trails only M.B.A.s over this period but is substantially in excess of the other professional fields.3 As stated by Professor Sherwin Rosen, "…the story of the legal profession (and, similarly, for the medical practice) in the 1970s and 1980s is the entry of women…"4
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1 Marjorie Williams, "A Women’s Place is at the Bar," The Washington Post, April 4, 2001, p. A23.
2 These data are from the National Center for Education Statistics, as reported on the National Science Foundation CASPAR Web site www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/stats.htm.
3 In 1966, social science (10.9 percent female) and psychology (20.9 percent female) doctorates are fields that already had high percentages of women; this high rate of feminization in the base year limits the potential growth in the index number.
4 Sherwin Rosen, "The Market for Lawyers," Journal of Law and Economics, October 1992, p. 218.
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Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
Gender differences in occupational employment.—Apr. 1997.
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