NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 9, 2008

Women with MBA degrees are more likely to opt out of the workforce than women with M.D.s or law degrees, a study of Harvard degree-holders suggests.

Researchers followed the career paths of nearly 1,000 women who got such Harvard degrees from 1988 to 1991.  They found that:

  • Some 28 percent of the MBA graduates were full-time mothers 15 years later versus 21 percent of the lawyers and six percent of the doctors.
  • The highest percentage of women to work part-time were doctors, while women in business, especially those in finance and banking, were the least likely to have done so.
  • Women with MBAs typically spend only two years in business school, a shorter amount of training time than doctors or lawyers.
  • They also put less money into their school, spending $146,000 on average for an MBA, as opposed to $308,000 for an M.D. and $225,000 for a J.D.
  • One likely reason for the disparity: many of the doctors and lawyers said they could arrange flexible hours, while the infrastructure is not there in the business world.

Another consideration is that many of these women are married to men who are just as ambitious as they are, say researchers.  The "opt-out revolution" -- the notion that working women choose parenting over building their careers -- is more complicated than meets the eye.  Men who are in the upper ranks of their profession with stay-at-home-wives earn 30 percent more than men who are married to women who work.  And since many women in business school marry those upper-ranking men, they end up being stay-at-home-wives, regardless of their own vision of what they wanted from their careers.

Nevertheless, female enrollment at 25 of the top U.S. full-time MBA programs hovers around 31 percent, say researchers.

Source: Alison Damast, "The Stay-At-Home MBA," BusinessWeek, September 8, 2008; based upon: Catherine Wolfram and Jane Leber Herr, "Opt-Out Patterns Across Careers: Labor Force Participation Rates Among Education Mothers," University of California, Berkeley, July 2008.

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