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The New Labor Market for Lawyers: Will Female Lawyers Still Earn Less?

Joni Hersch

To examine the magnitude and source of the gender pay disparity among lawyers, this paper uses data from a large national survey reporting individual information for 1990 and 1993 on a wide array of work related and personal characteristics. The data show a large earnings shortfall for female lawyers earning their J.D. before 1990, even after controlling for differences in work history, hours worked, type of employer, and family characteristics. In contrast, female lawyers earning their J.D. between 1990 and 1993 earn more than their male counterparts. By examining the sources of the gender pay gap among the older cohort it is possible to draw inferences for the younger cohort on the likelihood that this female earnings advantage will persist. The findings of this paper suggest that although the gender disparity will narrow as women gain experience in the legal profession, a gap due to family status is likely to persist. First, men receive a large premium to being married. To the extent this premium derives from specialization, women lawyers may likewise benefit from marital specialization as more women have spouses with supporting careers. But the evidence from the younger cohort does not bode well, as traditional patterns of spousal employment status persist. Second, although marital status and children do not directly affect women's earnings, they do influence hours worked. Finally, one cannot rule out the existence of discrimination because there is a large unexplained gender pay disparity that remains even after controlling for extensive work-related and personal characteristics.

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