Which new mothers are most likely to abandon their old jobs?

Jane Leber Herr tells us:

Looking at these women 15 years after graduation, when they are approximately 37 years old, we find the same pattern seen elsewhere; among mothers with a graduate degree, MDs are the most likely to be working (94%), and MBAs are the least likely (72%)…Among PhDs, 86% are working, among lawyers (JDs), 79%, among women with non-MBA masters, 74%, and among those with no graduate degree, 69%.

These basic differences across professions seem to hold up once other measurable factors are controlled for.  Most of the short essay focuses on causality; the family-friendliness of the job environment may be one important factor.


What's interesting about this report is not the differences from field to field, but rather the fact that in all of the fields a substantial majority of women continue to work. It's become "conventional wisdom" in the past few years that housewifery is trendy and that only thoughtless women continue to work. Not so, apparently.

What about the ease of returning to that same career after taking significant time off to have and raise children? I would imagine that it would be easier to get a new job after a few years out of the work force if you had an MBA than if you had, for example, a PhD in Renaissance Literature.

Might this reflect the ways in which various professions are able to expel mothers?

Maybe certain professions welcome attractive single women because they are attractive to the men in the profession, or because they are attractive to customers. Once they are mothers, they are clearly no longer attractive single women. So their value in the workplace is drastically diminished and the market acts to weed them out.

Well gee, these are some interesting results from a woman named "Jane live man" ...

The rates of taking time off are roughly in line with the time/financial investments made in acquiring the various degrees. An MD followed by a residency is huge commitment of time and money. After becoming a fully licensed physician it would be harder to justify an extended absence than it would for an MBA who had only two additional years in the classroom.

Also, MBAs and JDs are a dime a dozen especially outside the small handful of elite schools. MDs are always in demand. The need for PhDs varies widely based on the subject matter...

I think the fact that the majority of women with graduate degrees DO stay in the workforce points to the fact that we have made some progress in creating options for women (and men?) interested in a work-life balance, at least outside of the business world. If MBAs are leaving the workforce, it signals that there is still too little flexibility in the rhythm of work in the business world.

as a dad to three girls and a son, i am inclined to recommend legal/accounting in govt or
MD for my daughters, but engineering+MBA or engineering+law for my son

One theory I've read, which sounds quite sensible, is that an ideal professional career depends on a person's IQ score. A suggestion:

135+ = medicine
125-134 = engineering
115-124 = pharmacy
<114 = accounting Law is glutted and should be avoided unless you can get into one of the top 13 (or 14?) law schools.

David, mulp mentioned attractiveness to customers, and per your example I doubt that managers at Hooters hire waitresses based on their likelihood of actually sleeping with customers rather than for their appeal as eye candy. But even if you're right, I'm not sure that being married correlates strongly with being unavailable for sex, though being a married mother might.

regarding IQ correlations with professional credentials - i think that interest
and desire count for more than raw intellect - being willing to work hard will get
you through the programs, and then counts for more than intellect once you practice
in the economy - but ofcourse there is some base level of comprehension/intelligence
that must be there - all the desire in the world is not going to help out the person
(likely a male, who are over-represented at the extremes) with a 35 IQ

and for accounting/law in govt, you needn't attend the best universities - although
for better mate-pool characteristics, the better university IS desired

Travel demands are probably one reason MBA women with children are more likely to quit. Being a corporate executive typically demands a lot of jet travel and nights away from home. In contrast, most of these other careers can be practiced in one place, so you can see your kids every day.

Next time you are getting on a business route flight, such as Chicago to Dallas, check out the ratio of professionally dressed men to women among the passengers.


First, 10% more likely...could mean 60/66% or 60/70%. It is not apparent that economics are considered. Doctors are probably career-driven or they wouldn't be doctors. "Work-family policies"...ugh. Ad infinitum.

two words: sunk cost.

perhaps it all boils down to women being no better than men at using their inner economist.


Some of the sex difference is that people move to cheaper outer suburbs if mom is intending or considering staying home. In more expensive inner areas, both parents are more likely to have to work, or they don't have kids at all.

MBAs are less likely to continue working! this is mostly because they become 'entrepreneur'!! but the article is really interesting!!!

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