Social & Education Policy

When Does Feminization Increase Equality?: The Case of Lawyers

Chiu, C.; Leicht, K.T.


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.