The True Secret of Female MBA’s?

We recently solicited your questions for Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, whose research we cite in SuperFreakonomics regarding the male-female pay gap, particularly among female MBA’s.

Their answers will be coming soon. In the interim, consider this sensible objection from a reader named Lisa:

I am in the midst of enjoying your second book but have to write to you regarding your discussion of women MBA’s, pp. 44-46.

First of all, I’m not sure I appreciate the company we’re keeping in your book — prostitutes and school-teachers — under the ghettoization umbrella, but I suppose that debate is for another day.

I’m writing to disabuse you of your surprise about women MBA’s behavior:

“This is a strange twist. Many of the best and brightest women in the U.S. get an MBA so they can earn high wages, but they end up marrying the best and brightest men, who also earn high wages — which affords these women the luxury of not having to work so much. … Perhaps they never would have met such husbands if they hadn’t gone to business school.”

Would you cut us some slack? I think we are smarter than you give us credit for! Especially for two guys who are willing to go back 20-plus years to understand that the drop in crime in the 1990’s was due to the outcome of Roe v. Wade! You need a similarly long perspective on this issue because you are missing the boat.

Many of us — here’s the surprise — got our MBAs precisely because we wanted to have children and work, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to recover from the economic hit nearly as well unless we had an MBA to accelerate us back up the speed ramp when we re-entered the workforce post-child-raising! In fact, one could argue that having an MBA helps on the pregnancy end too, with presumably higher skills and therefore occasionally higher leverage to negotiate a better childcare leave than we might have otherwise.

I was raised in the 1970s, with the expectation from the feminist movement that I would work, in addition to the expectation from my mother’s own modeling that I would mother. Many of my well-educated friends with advanced degrees have stepped down to part-time work during their child-raising years. And it will be extremely interesting to see what we do as our kids get to college and out of the nest. I can only speak for myself: I dropped down to part-time when my oldest was born. I have further dropped back to a sole-practitioner consultancy for the flexibility. Some days it feels like I have only my little toenail in the workforce, but nonetheless it is there. And I feel more confident that I will be able to ramp back up in whatever capacity I choose once my kids have left — because I have the MBA qualification and resulting experience. The degree has enabled me to have credentials as a consultant and I will build on those as I re-enter the workforce.

I both wanted to get this off my chest as well as suggest further research on highly educated women and part-time work – a topic near and dear. Thanks for listening – and good luck with book 3!

Kind regards,

I think you will agree that Lisa makes excellent points. She also reinforces my belief that there has never been a feedback machine anywhere near as efficient as the internet.

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  1. Michael says:

    My wife always wanted to be a stay at home mom. When I was taking too long to finish up my undergrad she said “I’m bored” and went and got her MBA (with her German undergrad it came down to either more German, an MBA or a law degree).

    Now she’s a stay at home mom like she has always wanted.

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  2. NativeWoman says:

    I was raised in the feminist era, which appears to be over. I was an ardent part of the feminist movement, and I am still an ardent feminist. I am highly educated but not with lucrative or flexible skills – I spent 13 years in college and graduate school to become a poorly paid publish-or-perish university professor – I did publish, quality and quantity, but still nearly perished, in part for being female and in part for not having been socialized into professional workways. (I have returned to school for more degrees.)What I do not regret is having forsaken partner and children throughout graduate school – an absolute requirement – then through the pre-tenure years – impossible to find a partner by then. (I have time, inclination, opportunity, partner, plans for a child now.)What I do not – CAN-not – understand, EVER, is why women, as opposed to men, rear children, do housework, change their last names on marriage (and seemingly accept and use the term “girl”). My education and research was in sociology, including social and feminist theory, the history of social thought, and gender studies – and still: I do not understand!!!! Can someone edify me????

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  3. matt anderson says:

    paging thomas sowell. paging thomas sowell.

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  4. Jim Purdy says:

    Excellent comments from Lisa, but what’s this comment all about:

    “I’m not sure I appreciate the company we’re keeping in your book – prostitutes and school-teachers – under the ghettoization umbrella”

    Teachers? Ghettoization? Do I detect some kind of MBA snobbery? Teachers are underpaid and under-respected, but that doesn’t make their work less important than MBAs.

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  5. E. Gallagher says:

    I could give you my anecdotal story (PhD, mom, one toenail in the workforce, primary care giver, etc) . I appreciate Lisa’s perspective, but it is not exactly mine. I think that every story is different. The statistics are interesting, but we all have our own spin.

    I also think we all change as we grow through the education years, the partner-ing years, the mothering years and probably the post-mothering years. So motives are not always the same through time. This makes the statistical analysis even more confusing (not stationary).

    I think that Levitt and Dubner could write a whole book just on the statistics of modern women and the work, wife, baby,education conundrum. I would read it!

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  6. Kaushik says:

    I am not sure how much one can grow after taking a good long break of few years …. today world is changing in so fast I guess if you are out of work for an year … you are totally out of sync … I guess in the book there is a good point mentioned on the reason which supports lower wage for female MBA graduates .

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  7. Mad_Dugan says:

    Bell curves. There will be a few who plan ahead, but most don’t.

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  8. BAC says:

    I think your confusion is created by the framing of the issue: “Many of the best and brightest women in the U.S. get an MBA so they can earn high wages…” I don’t believe that is accurate. I would say that many of the best and brightest women in the U.S. get an MBA because it gives them security and the flexibility to do what they want to do. For some, at some point or for some period of time, that is staying home or working less. Trading extra income for more free time/family time is certainly a rational choice. A good education (and high earning husband) simply make more options available to women.

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