The Gap Education Doesn't Narrow

The Gap Education Doesn't Narrow

Women are paid less than men. The statement is neither new nor controversial. However, as data on the pay gap is organized in new ways, the legal profession has emerged as a particularly unequal market. The "Mind the Gap" series of posts will explore the contours of this pay gap. The Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning policy think tank, released a study in December of 2008, which found that women in the legal profession experienced a lifetime earnings gap of $1,481,000 as calculated over a 40-year career. This gap was larger than that of any other occupational group and over three times the average pay gap of $434,000.

The graph at this link from the Harvard Business Review is part of a series of slides dedicated to examining the pay gap that are used throughout this post. It offers a stark visual representation of the pay gap in the legal profession.

Although defenders of the legal profession often pin their diversity problems on the habits of the business world, male and female managers have achieved much more salary parity than their lawyer counterparts. The 40-year pay gap in management is $635,000, though more earnings may be hidden in bonuses that were not included in the CAP study. This link includes a supporting slide.

Perhaps most interesting is the report's examination of fields with high salary parity. The maintenance professions, including installation and repair work, represents one of the lowest pay gaps with $84,000 lost over a 40-year career. Among this group, access to unions was key. Women in unions earned 13 cents less on the dollar while nonunion women earned 21 cents less. However, unionized women actually out-earned non-unionized men, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled in this report by Women Work!  And also indicated in this slide from the Harvard Business Review.  For me, the two big take-aways from the report are as follows. 1) Education does not level the playing field; the pay gap actually grows with increased educational attainment. That is, as the potential for earnings grows, so too does the pay gap. 2) Unions help.

Harvard Business Review seems to agree with me about the importance of point one. They named this chart "The Gap That Education Cannot Conquer." 

Yan Cao is a member of Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP,) an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at