Law Schools' Women Problem

A new study shows the number of women enrolled in law school has been declining steadily since 2002, a disparity that shows particularly at the top 10 law schools. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Kenneth Anderson rightly, I think, brings up the possibility that the increasing cost of law school might be at play here. From there Anderson wonders if women are choosing not to go to law schools because they know that being a mother and having children will cut into the rewards that make attending a top law school worth the cost:

If it is the case that many young women looking at the law school decision are also thinking about marriage, family, and children, if law school tuition and attached debts rise high enough, they might conclude that despite the professional opportunities (which have shrunk considerably since 2002), the debt is not worth it in terms of family cost.

Rising tuition costs and the breakdown of family responsibility are important, but this hypothesis mistakes cause and effect: Women don't earn less or advance more slowly because they have kids and families, they are disadvantaged because the system is biased against women. After all, men have children and families too, the only difference is that their wives give birth

A 2010 survey of female partners at law firms found a 22 percent pay gap between them and their male counterparts. When asked why they were paid less, respondents mentioned bias and coercion in denying women credit on projects and leadership positions. I'm sure having children and families doesn't help women trying to move up in their firms, but that's not a natural effect -- it's another form of bias.

It's not nothing that for almost a decade, women are increasingly spurning law school, but for all the handwringing that women make up 45 percent of law school graduates, the inequities seem bigger once women actually enter the field. Costs are prohibitive for most people, but they're a bigger deal if even the most successful female lawyers can expect to make 22 percent, or $66,000 per year, less than their male counterpart. 

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