Data on Women in Legal Academia:

In line with the discussion on the relative paucity of female Supreme Court clerks, it is interesting to note that the data show a very similar percentage of women in legal academia. According to the American Association of Law Schools, 35.3% of law school faculty were women as of the 2004-2005 academic year.

There may, however, be a generational transition going on, since the same AALS data show that 48.5% of assistant professors are women (the lowest rank of tenure-track faculty members), compared to 25% of full professors (the highest rank). Obviously, full professors are on average significantly older than assistant profs, and generally come from generations where women were less likely to pursue careers in law or academia. Other AALS stats show that female faculty are promoted to tenure at roughly the same rate as men with 61.6% of female and 65.9% of male tenure-track faculty hired in 1996-97 being promoted to tenure within 8 years; most law schools require tenure track faculty to get tenure or leave within 7 years of appointment.

However, it is still the case that far fewer women than men apply for jobs in Legal academia. AALS statistics show that only about 33.6% of of the candidates applying for legal academic jobs through the Faculty Appointments Register (AKA - the "Meat Market") in 2004-2005, were women. Women are now about 50% of the student body at most elite law schools. So academic careers are still on average less attractive to women than to men. Women FAR candidates actually have a higher success rate in getting jobs than male ones (18.9% vs. 15.6% in 2003-2004), though this tells us little in the absence of data on the relative quality of male and female candidates.

I have not studied the literature on the subject in any depth, but I tentatively suggest two possible reasons for the gender disparity in applications.

First, the "publish or perish" phase of an academic career usually occurs during the first seven years on the job. This is precisely the time (late twenties to mid thirties) when people tend to have children. Childcare is of course more likely to take up a large amount of time for women than for men. While this is not a problem for women who don't want children or for those willing to postpone having children until their late thirties, such a postponement increases the chance of birth defects and may also cause other problems in the family. Overall, this problem is likely to deter considerably more female applicants than male ones, both because men with children do less childcare work and because men can more easily postpone having kids until after getting tenure. Obviously, some female academics use their time so efficiently that they can simultaneously devote a lot of time to childcare and be just as productive as their male and childless female colleagues. But not all potential female academics are willing or able to take on this challenge.

Second, you are much more likely to get an academic job if you have few geographic constraints. If your best (or only) offer comes from University of Southwest North Dakota, you won't have much of a career unless you accept. Given the competitiveness of the market, many entry-level candidates are going to end up in that position. On average, men are far less willing to move to an unappealing location to advance a spouse's career than women are, thus making this dilemma more difficult for many female applicants. I also suspect that more female spouses of male academics have careers that can be pursued even in an out-of-the-way location (e.g. - teachers, nurses, secretaries, etc.) than male spouses of female ones. This factor may be more important than most people realize, because elite law school graduates who choose to work for a law firm instead of going into academia can usually get a job in any city they want. A female elite law school grad whose husband or boyfriend refuses to move therefore has a strong incentive to choose a firm over academia - even if the academic lifestyle is otherwise more appealing.

UPDATE: I initially misread the AALS table on tenure rate for men and women and so reported the data for FAILURE to get tenure within 8 years rather than success. I have now corrected the figures in the post.

I have no data to back this up, it's just a suspicion. But prestigious national law firms vie for the same crop of top women graduates from elite law schools. Because of societal pressure to achieve in careers that have been male traditionally, women might be choosing careers with law firms rather than softer careers in academia.
7.9.2006 12:50pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Second, you are much more likely to get an academic job if you have few geographic constraints. If your best (or only) offer comes from University of Southwest North Dakota, you won't have much of a career unless you accept.

Music department's pretty good, though. At the Hoople campus, anyway.
7.9.2006 1:21pm
R.S. (mail):
The tenure-rates for the '96-'97 cohort are much higher than you report. See, e.g., table 2G in the AALS report you cited.
This certainly accords with anecodatal impression, compared to the rather shockingly low (c. mid-30's) % you report (which seems drawn from an earlier (and inapplicable) table.

Interesting post, though--my intuition is that the geographic constraint looms much larger than the childbearing interest--women with the latter would seem to be attracted to academia as opposed to law-firm life! Even w/ the "publish or perish" imperative, the ease of publishing in legal academia combined w/ very high tenure-rates makes this a nice refuge from the pressures of the competitive marketplace.
7.9.2006 2:13pm
Ann Bartow has been having trouble posting a comment, and she left this comment at my solo blog:

AALS lumps tenure track and nontenure track hires togther in its data. Because some law schools give titles like "Associate Professor" to nontenure track faculty, and because the majority of nontenure track hires are women, this gives an artifically rosy picture of how women are doing in terms of getting hired as law profs. I raise that here because data is not straightfoward and needs to be unpacked before you can figure out what is going on. This is a far more extreme problem in terms of clerkships. A few years ago I asked the placement people at a number of law schools if they kept track of which students applied for clerkships, and which succeeded in obtaining them, and whether I could access this data. I was interested in gender composition, but also in how much importance grades and class standing seemed to play in terms of who applied, and how well they did in the clerkship market. Well, I will likely never know, because I was told by every placement person I approached that this data, to the extent it existed, could not be disclosed due to "privacy concerns." If anyone out there has any data about the "clerkship pipeline," please advise!
7.9.2006 2:28pm
Music department's pretty good, though. At the Hoople campus, anyway.

That would be at the University of Southern North Dakota, a very different institution altogether.

Mit freundlichen Gruessen from your faithful friend
7.9.2006 2:30pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
So if either of the two explanations you cite turns out to be the answer then it seems the sex difference here is not a pernicious one, at least on the part of the law schools. Yet to my amazement I hear many people allege that not giving sufficiently generous maternity leave, requiring frequent travel or otherwise making it difficult to raise children while working are in fact sex discrimination and ought to be illegal.

The laws we have about pregnancy and sex discrimination that require women who get pregnant to be treated at least as well as anyone who suffered from a non job related industry. This seems to guarantee fair treatment. After all fairness shouldn't require company to treat you better than me because you get satisfaction out of raising a family and I get it out of going skiing or some other activity that results in an equal number of days I'm incapable of heavy work.

Yet Grossman argues on Findlaw that because some huge percent of women will get pregnant in their life that a failure to provide more accommodations for pregnancy is essentially a form of discrimination. Also when I talk to people about this subject I hear tons of people argue that it would be discriminatory for companies not to provide day cares or otherwise give people with families special leeway.

Yet what these arguments fail to recognize is that not all policies resulting in disparate impact are discriminatory. Non-discrimination is about making sure opportunities are equally available to men and women not that they are equally appealing. The fact that more women than men tend to choose family over career is really irrelevant to the discrimination point (supposing there is no intent).

Moreover, the fact that only women can get pregnant doesn't make this any more discriminatory. Most women view the ability to bear a child as a benefit they wouldn't want to give up (having their tubes tied) if they could. Surely choosing to exercise an extra ability others don't have can't mean fairness requires others treat you better because of it. If I could fly because of a mutation but ended up really exhausted it would be absurd to think that people must treat me better than other exhausted people on pain of mutant discrimination.

Still someone might try to argue that men can have a child without getting pregnant while a woman can not. Also one might point out that in a marriage it is often the woman who agrees to take care of the child for both parties. Neither of these should make a difference to the employer. These are essentially private agreements between a man and wife which could be characterized as the woman agreeing to bear some burden for his husband (we have already dealt with the case where it is a benefit). In this case it is the husband's responsibility to compensate the wife not the rest of societies.

In short either a woman is choosing to bear children alone, in which case she is exercising an extra ability that men don't even have available so fairness surely does not require her to be given compensation for her extra advantage, or the woman is making sacrifices as part of a married couple to raise children in which case it is her partner's duty to compensate her for these sacrifices.

The real effect of any sort of legal requirement for child creation/child care is to transfer money from the childless to the baby-producers. This is surely on it's face unfair. If I get my kicks skiing and someone else gets their enjoyment raising a family (and don't tell me people have kids as a noble sacrifice for society) why should I have to support them rather than vice versa? Hell most people want to have kids so making them support the lucky ones who found someone to have a family with is almost like making only single people work on valentines day.

Still, there might be societal reasons why we want to encourage people, particularly successful professionals, to have a family but it needs to be recognized that this would actively be unfair and is only justified if the benefits are large enough rather than the other way around.
7.9.2006 5:21pm
hjgu (mail):
7.9.2006 9:46pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Overall, this problem is likely to deter considerably more female applicants than male ones, both because men with children do less childcare work

It's not *just* this. There are other forms of sexism out there. Real quantfiable examples of how society paterns us to expect men to do less child care work for no other reason that they're men. The system then disadvantages women because of expectations based on how much child care work they'll do and gives comprable advantages to men based on that expectation, which is one of the things that leads to men getting higher paying jobs, and re-enforcing why they should work while a spouse with children stays home.

It's not just a vicious circle, it's a vicious spirograph.

And our complacency, our unwillingness to make drastic changes to adress this issue is a part of why it won't change.
7.9.2006 11:24pm
junglegymn (mail):
So far several of the comments have fixed on the first of the Larry Summers factors. But what about the second factor, greater male variability in relevant talents? This is evident in trends in LSAT scores over the last quarter century, with the female proportion scoring in the top ten percent significantly lagging their increased proportion of test takers. A parallel gap between participation and performance appears in the female proportion of graduates who are members of the Order of the Coif at such top schools as Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Michigan, NYU, Penn, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA.
7.10.2006 4:59am
LSAT scores? God, you people are so bloody EAGER to believe it's because women are inferior, absent real evidence. I got a 178, graduated cum laude from a top school, and published an article my first year out. I will not be an academic any time soon, because I did not get a federal clerkship, because I am married and was not able to apply nationwide and intend to have children.

In a way it's not invidious: law schools probably don't specifically intend to exclude women (I mean, that may happen, but I doubt it's the primary factor). But there's nothing magical about clerkships if you have other, independent evidence that this person can research and write--it's a prestige thing. And there's no intrinsic reason that having kids should prevent rather than delay success--but if you take 3 years off or part time, it sets you back more than the time you miss.
7.10.2006 9:42am
Data (mail):
junglegymn, why not look at some actual data rather than simply buying into the Larry Summers model? As I posted on the other thread, there does not appear to be greater male variability on the LSAT; rather, women simply do (very slightly) worse on the LSAT than men at all levels. See the chart on page 12 of this PDF document here.
That is, more women than men score under 130 and fewer women than men score over 170. This could mean that women, on average, are slightly less likely to have the abilities necessary to succeed in law school; it could also mean a number of other things.
7.10.2006 11:43am
Bryan DB:
I've seen this statement made many times:
"On average, men are far less willing to move to an unappealing location to advance a spouse's career than women are,..."

Is this just a rationalization, or can anyone actually point to some proof for the pudding?
7.10.2006 12:38pm
AJK (mail):
Bryan, I think it's well-documented that high-achieving women generally marry high-achieving men; this is not true to the same degree of high-achieving men.

There are also studies that show that a very high proportion of male academics (of all fields; I haven't seen anything specific to law) are much more likely to have stay-at-home wives; the same is not true for female academics.

It may not be that men are unwilling to move for their female-academic spouses; it just may not be practical for both parties to give up the husband's career and salary.
7.10.2006 2:44pm
junglegymn (mail):
Dear Data, I did look at actual data, from the LSAC going back to the early 1980s, even before Larry Summers attained enlightenment. The answer to your question is evident also in the LSAC Report you kindly linked on the other thread, only it's two pages earlier than your reference. Table 3 on p. 10 shows consistently greater variance in male scores. The idiots and geniuses syndrome has considerable generality in helping explain sexual biases in elite recruitment.
7.11.2006 8:29am
Data (mail):
Actually, the table on p. 3 also supports my point; the difference in variability is negligible. (I'll concede that New Englanders appear slightly more variable than people from the Great Lakes, however.)
7.11.2006 10:40am