Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gender Gap in Law School Admissions Growing

I'm not sure I've developed an opinion about this yet, but statistics are showing that gender equality in the number of men and women applying and accepted into law school each year reached it's peak at around the millennium and has since been declining. While in 2001, only about 1,000 more men were accepted into law school than women, that number has been growing each year since and by 2006-07 school year had grown to a difference of 5,000. This may not seem like a large gap to some, but in light of the fact that in the same school year only 25,000 women were accepted into law schools, that means that 20% more men were accepted than men. From near equality to a 20% difference is a big change.

One may wonder if this difference has developed, not because law schools are accepting fewer women percentage-wise, but because fewer women are applying to law schools. In fact, the number of women, proportional to men, who apply to law schools has been declining in recent years. Between 2004 and 2007, there was a 7.5 percent decrease in the number of women applying to law schools. This could be a problem on it's own. The rate at which women were accepted into law schools, however, still fell faster during this period of time than a decrease in the number of applicants can account for. Why is this? are women less qualified for law school today than they were 5 years ago? Do we have lower LSAT scores? The Law School Admissions Council reports that although women consistently score about 2 points lower than men on the LSAT, this gap has not shifted in the past 8 years.

The big question behind all of these statistics is this: why are women less represented in law school now than they were 10 years ago? If the numbers are significant enough to represent a trend, my guess is not that there are fewer opportunities for women in law, but that it is increasingly difficult for women to be able to pursue careers and care for families. Yes, there are more women in law today than their have ever been before, many of which have access to positions of power and prestige that were previously unavailable to them. But the reality is that while women's representation in the professional world has been growing since the 1970s, our gender expectations about household work have not caught up. Women are taking a "second shift" at home; women with careers still spend twice as much time doing work in the home (caring for children, cleaning, cooking, etc.) than their male counterparts. Not much has changed in recent year in our gender expectation about who in the family should care for children and maintain the home. Moreover, the government has done very little to make affordable, quality child care available to working mothers. All of this adds up to a very clear message to women in law: though the hours expected of women in the legal profession continue to climb, very little assistance exists for these women to be able to reconcile work and family.

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