Academic journal article Law & Society Review

When Does Feminization Increase Equality? the Case of Lawyers

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

When Does Feminization Increase Equality? the Case of Lawyers

Article excerpt

Our analysis addresses whether the legal profession can be classified as experiencing successful feminization. Drawing on the work of Reskin and Roos (1990) and Wright and Jacobs (1994), we suggest that relatively successful feminization occurs where (1) occupational growth is rapid, (2) graduate and specialized degrees are important, and (3) wages are increasing. We develop an argument for the legal profession as a case of successful feminization with data taken from the U.S. census 1970-1990 and from a cohort of lawyers surveyed in 1984 and 1990 as part of the National Survey of Lawyers' Career Satisfaction (Hirsch 1992). Our results suggest that the legal profession was on the road to achieving successful gender integration and feminization during the 1980s. Overall improvements in the economic standing of female attorneys compared with males is occurring among women at or below the median in the earnings distribution and among elite lawyers at the top of the earnings distribution. There is also evidence of a persistent "glass ceiling" in the earnings distribution for women. Analyses of change in evaluations of legal work settings suggest that changes in earnings that favor women's successful entry into law are occurring in a context of growing dissatisfaction with legal work settings. We discuss the implications of our findings for further analyses of the gender integration of male-dominated occupations.

During the 1970s and 1980s, scholars of gender inequality focused on segregation as the primary mechanism perpetuating the gender wage gap (Sokoloff 1992). Scholars were especially interested in the changing gender composition of jobs and the mechanisms for and consequences of the gradual gender integration of male-dominated occupations. In their influential book Job Queues, Gender Queues (1990), Reskin and Roos present a relatively pessimistic picture for women's equality as women enter into male-dominated occupations. In their survey of occupations where the percentage of women rose quickly during the 1970s,l women gained entry because the deterioration of working conditions prompted men to leave for more attractive jobs elsewhere. They found that women were concentrated in lower paying, less desirable specialties and ranks (ghettoization). Consequently, the gender wage gap did not narrow significantly within these occupations. Reskin and Roos (ibid., pp. 87-88) describe women's success in their sample of occupations as "hollow."

Wright and Jacobs (1994, hereafter Wright & Jacobs) use Reskin and Roos's perspective as a starting point for their analysis of computer professionals in the 1980s. Wright and Jacobs predicted that women's entry into computer occupations would increase ghettoization, sex segregation, earnings gaps, and departures by men. None of these predictions was supported in their analysis. The gender earnings gap narrowed, job-level segregation decreased, and deteriorating conditions were not associated with women's entry or men's exits (p. 532).2 They concluded that computer work in the 1980s was in the process of integrating by gender. They mentioned medicine, law, and management as other occupations where women's representation had risen dramatically without declines in occupational status or increased within-occupation segregation.

We attempt to develop a perspective that encompasses these conflicting findings. We call feminization that occurs simultaneously with rising wages, decreased segregation, and a reduced gender wage gap "successful feminization" and feminization that occurs simultaneously with falling wages, increased segregation, and a larger gender wage gap "unsuccessful feminization." Our research question then becomes, Under what conditions does women's entry into an occupation lead to successful feminization, and under what conditions does this entry lead to unsuccessful feminization?

By considering cases of successful versus unsuccessful feminization, we suggest that occupational feminization is most likely to be successful when (1) employment growth is rapid, (2) graduate or specialized college degrees are important, and (3) wages are increasing. …

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