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What Gender Gap? Many Women Lawyers w/ Kids Do as Well as Men, Researcher Says

Posted May 12, 2009 7:14 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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It may not be whether women lawyers have children but how much they focus on their families that accounts for a widely reported gender gap between the salaries and partnership prospects of male and female attorneys at many law firms.

A study of data concerning graduates of the University of Michigan Law School showed no significant difference between men and women who had children yet didn't interrupt their careers or work part-time to take care of them. However, it revealed a significant gap between those attorneys and their colleagues—both male and female—who put their careers on pause for several years to stay home with the kids, says law professor Kenneth Dau-Schmidt of Indiana University at Bloomington.

"Gender was secondary, and much less important, than whether they had interrupted their careers to do child care," he tells the ABA Journal.

Lawyers in the career-interrupted group worked less, earned less and made partner less frequently than those who soldiered steadily on with their full-time legal careers, he says. However—as far as the women are concerned—those in the career-interrupted group are also the most satisfied of all the lawyers studied, both with their personal lives and with their professional lives.

Dau-Schmidt, who himself is a Michigan law grad, has authored a detailed article on the subject, Men and Women of the Bar: The Importance of Gender on Legal Careers, that will soon be published in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.

Only a very small number of male attorneys take significant time off for child care, Dau-Schmidt points out, so the similarity between their experience and that of their female counterparts hasn't been much noticed. Meanwhile, career studies have tended to group all women attorneys with children together, he says, so distinctions between those who interrupt their careers and those who don't have been missed.

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