Hey, ladies! And I do mean ladies, since I'm talking to you sisters who busted your butts to graduate from an Ivy League school or some other upper-crust institution. You probably went through all that in hopes it would improve your job prospects. Well, maybe it did, but it turns out you girls are significantly more likely to give it all up when it's time to start squeezing out the rugrats than your sisters who attended more pedestrian universities.

That, at least, is the finding of a recent study by Joni Hersch, a professor of Law and Economics at Vanderbilt Law School. Says Hersch:

The employment rate for married mothers with children who are graduates of the most selective colleges is 68 percent, in contrast to an employment rate of 76 percent of those who are graduates of less selective colleges. Other measures of labor market activity such as labor force participation, full-time employment, part-time employment, and employment in two periods 18 months apart show similarly large disparities in labor market activity by college status. Furthermore, the disparity in labor market activity between graduates of elite colleges and less selective colleges is observed for women in three different age cohorts: ages 23-34, 35-44, and 45-54.

And it gets worse for women who went on to get an MBA. Business school graduates with undergraduate degrees from top schools were 30% more likely to drop out of the workforce after getting married and having kids.

Advertisement

Why? Hersch considers a few explanations, such as more privileged backgrounds, husbands with higher earning power, and greater ability to pay off student loan debt, but concludes that none of these explanations works across the board. What about the theory that mothers are pushed out of high-powered jobs?

[T]his hypothesis does not explain why labor market activity differs between graduates of elite and non-elite schools. Graduates of elite institutions are likely to have a greater range of workplace options as well as higher expected wages than graduates of less selective institutions, which would suggest that labor market activity would be higher among such women. Without discounting the well-known challenges of combining family and professional responsibilities, increasing workplace flexibility alone may have only a limited impact on reducing the gap in labor market activity between graduates of elite and non-elite schools.