Elite Universities and Women’s Careers–PosnerAn article in the New York Times of September 20 by Louise Story, entitled “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” reports the results of surveys and interviews concerning career plans of women at the nation’s most prestigious colleges, law schools, and business schools. Although not rigorously empirical, the article confirms . . .that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the work force to take care of their children. . .One survey of Yale alumni found that 90 percent of the male alumni in their 40s were still working, but only 56 percent of the female . . .
But it is at this point that policy questions arise. Even at the current very high tuition rates, there is excess demand for places at the elite colleges and professional schools, as shown by the high ratio of applications to acceptances at those schools. Demand is excess–supply and demand are not in balance–because the colleges and professional schools do not raise tuition to the market-clearing level but instead ration places in their entering classes on the basis (largely) of ability, as proxied by grades, performance on standardized tests, and extracurricular activities. Since women do as well on these measures as men, the student body of an elite educational institution is usually about 50 percent female . . .While well-educated mothers contribute more to the human capital of their offspring than mothers who are not well educated, it is doubtful that a woman who graduates from Harvard College and goes on to get a law degree from Yale will be a better mother than one who stopped after graduating from Harvard . . .The principal effect of professional education of women who are not going to have full working careers is to reduce the contribution of professional schools to the output of professional services. . .Although women continue to complain about discrimination, sometimes quite justly, the gender-neutral policies that govern admission to the elite professional schools illustrate discrimination in favor of women. Were admission to such schools based on a prediction of the social value of the education offered, fewer women would be admitted.
This becomes that much more interesting when you read about Adrienne, the Boston College Law School law student, whose greatest aspirations and “dream job are being a housewife and a stay at home mom.” If you agree and/or think she’s unfairly taking up a valuable spot at Boston College (your spot?), then, well, she does say she’s going to put her degree to “good use.”
The floodgates Judge Posner’s argument opens, of course, are monumental and could have held back Katrina. Luckily, most contrarians won’t read his argument. I say “luckily,” because the knee-jerk accusations of sexism would be just too much for me to bear at this hour. I’m still getting over the flu, after all. Meanwhile, the wife (also an educated lady) sleeps and I go to join her so we can both make the trek to our professional lives early tomorrow morning.