Lawyers’ Salaries: Mommy Penalties, Daddy Bonuses, and Pure Gender Effects

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Even among highly educated professionals, there is a persistent difference in the salaries of men and women. Untangling the reasons for that difference is quite difficult, and it involves as a threshold matter trying to figure out whether there are factors other than gender that explain why women earn less than men. Some studies have suggested that the difference in salaries is not in the first instance about the gender of the worker but about the worker’s status as a parent or non-parent. Some empirical research, for example, has found that men with children earn more than everyone else in their fields but that there are no detectable differences among women with children, women without children, and men without children.

I recently finished a draft of a paper (available here) in which I looked at the results of two surveys of graduates of the University of Michigan Law School from the classes of 1970 through 1996. These surveys were developed by Richard Lempert, David Chambers, and Terry Adams, who used the data from the first survey to study the effects of race on lawyers’ careers in their fascinating article: “Michigan’s Minority Graduates in Practice: The River Runs Through Law School,” 25 L. & Soc. Inquiry 395 (2000). Professor Lempert and his co-authors administered a follow-up survey that gathered information about gender and parental status; and they allowed me to use their data for the empirical analysis summarized in my draft paper.

Most of my paper is focused on technical matters of survey techniques and econometric analysis. For those who find such matters tedious or worse, the most direct discussion of the statistical results is in the introduction and conclusion and on pp. 30-32. My tentative results confirm the “daddy bonus” that others’ have found in other studies, with the range of estimates suggesting a 15-20% salary advantage for fathers. Unlike previous studies, however, I also find a strong suggestion that women with children endure a “mommy penalty,” earning perhaps 10-15% less than the childless (and thus 25-35% less than fathers). I also find some weaker statistical support for the hypothesis that childless women earn less than childless men, with my estimates suggesting an 8-9% difference disfavoring women.

The wonderful thing about empirical research is that every interesting set of results demands further study. Can my results regarding the salary losses for mothers and childless women be confirmed by further research? Although I also look at differences such as part-time status, the ages of children, and whether the children are living with the lawyer-parent, what other evidence should be taken into account in future studies?

Perhaps a more intriguing question is why the salary disadvantages against women and in favor of men largely show up through parental status. (Parenting itself still tends to be characterized by massive differences in gender roles, of course. Even if all of the difference in salaries between men and women were mostly about differences in child-rearing, therefore, this would simply relocate the question of how sexism continues to affect women and men differently.) Because this draft is mostly a technical discussion of empirical results, I speculate only briefly on the reasons for the daddy bonus, offering three possibilities: fathers feel the need to work harder to bring home more bread for the family, men wait to become fathers until their salaries are high enough to support a growing family, and (my cynical favorite) fathers shirk childcare responsibilities by hiding in the office and incidentally raising their salaries.

Fortunately, the surveys from which I drew my data are now being superseded by an even larger study of Michigan law graduates, with more detailed questions and more respondents from more graduating classes. This will allow researchers to use “panel data” techniques and other sophisticated methods of searching for statistical relationships.

Because I plan to be one of those researchers, I would be especially interested in readers’ suggestions (either on the Comment board or via email: regarding both how to improve and refine the regressions and how to explain the results. The best way to analyze empirical issues is to analyze data from as many angles as possible, so I will be very appreciative of any constructive suggestions.

-Neil H. Buchanan

[Cross-posted from Dorf on Law (here) with permission. – ed.]

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0 Responses to Lawyers’ Salaries: Mommy Penalties, Daddy Bonuses, and Pure Gender Effects

  1. Interesting study Neil. Thanks for bringing it to light. My gut reaction is that the question shouldn’t be whether one has kids. The question should be who has primary responsibility for day-to-day caring for the kids. Do men who are primarily responsible for childcare earn the same as women who are? I’m betting the number of people in the latter category are much higher than the number in the former, but maybe salaries are more similar than the categories that have already been studied? Of course, plain ol’ sexism would probably mean the men still make more, but I wonder how much more.

  2. Stock2114 says:

    Good paper, I skimmed it… The speculation part takes some liberties in what kind of causalities it assumes are reasonable or probable, but I’ll let that culturally-made distortion pass.

    It seems to me that you could narrow the possible causes of this a little more down, or at least provide evidence for narrowing ’em, if only you had some longitudinal data (unfortunately, doesn’t seem like we do, but just me dreaming for a bit about future studies)

    Okay, let’s imagine for a minute that we have longitudinal data. Check out
    how much of that salary increase occurred before the year they checked off
    “I’m a dad right now” and how much of that salary increase occurred. If it
    mostly increased after, then it wasn’t cause the dads were prepping for
    babies by ‘working hard’ (working hard in this country, after a certain
    minimum of work, does not consistently correlate to income increases. :/
    Please, do not speculate it does as you’ve done above. Be more specific.
    Talk about hours. I can be a janitor and my back can be breaking and that’s
    just as much work or more then pops in a suit. Heck, my fellow janitor, who
    may be my same ethnicity, gender, age, etc., may get paid more cause the
    boss gets to squeeze her ass. Working hard has barely anything to do w/ it.

    You also need to look at “married” man data – how much did it pop up after
    marriage (nvm, that introduces pounds of new factors you have to acct.
    for… settling down, housing, etc.).

    But it might be interesting to compare wage increases in the few years
    before first kid and among those of similar age group, race, gender, degree,
    and workforce length, and workplace type.

    Anyway, but also, if the wage increase/hours increase was mostly long
    beforehand, that pops the buttons off of the “daddy works harder to be
    breadwinner for new baby after birth” theory.

    Keep in mind that assignment of hours can be used as a form of payment and is not free from the discretion of bosses.

    That would be the ultimate data set for me. This data + Longitudinal + +
    maybe data on how much control they have over their hours.

    But… it’s not here right now.

    Yah, good paper.

  3. Pingback: Who’s your daddy? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  4. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » New coverage of the study which shows that “mothers” earn less than other lawyers.