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Why Are So Many Women With MBAs Staying Home?


They could be captains of industry, but women who earn MBAs from elite schools are less likely to work outside the home than other women.

A recent study from Vanderbilt University found that 60 percent of women who graduated from top MBA programs work full time, compared to 68 percent of female graduates from other schools. The contrast gets starker when we look only at married mothers with MBAs from top schools: only 35 percent worked full-time, as opposed to 66 percent who attended “less selective” colleges.

“Even though elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages and have higher expected earnings, they are still opting out of full-time work at much higher rates than other graduates, especially if they have children,” says Joni Hersch, the leader of the study and an economics professor at Vanderbilt.

Brian O’Connell at speculates that one reason married mothers with MBAs from prestigious schools are more likely to lean out, at least temporarily, is because they know they can lean back in, so to speak, more easily than a candidate with a less impressive degree.

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Regardless, the phenomenon might partially explain the fact that there are so many fewer female CEOs and other top executives.

“Elite workplaces, like Fortune 500 companies, prefer to hire graduates of elite colleges,” Hersch says. “Thus, lower labor market activity of MBAs from selective schools may have both a direct effect on the number of women reaching higher-level corporate positions as well as an indirect effect because a smaller share of women in top positions is associated with a smaller pipeline of women available to advance through the corporate hierarchy.”

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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