Inspired by such prominent figures as Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, many women are pursuing higher education with the aim of advancing their careers and becoming influential individuals in the business world. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2009 to 2010 women comprised the majority of degree conferrals across all education levels, earning 57.4 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and 62.6 percent of all master’s degrees. Similarly, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, 106,800 women took the GMAT during 2010-2011, up significantly from the 89,931 women who took this MBA admissions test during 2001-2002. Furthermore, over that time period, the average annual growth rate for test-taking men was 0.5% and 2.1% for women, more than four times as robust.
These statistics indicate an increased interest among women in higher education. Judging from popular media, including Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In and Warren Buffet’s statements in Fortune advocating for more female leaders in business, it appears that the nation has made strides towards increased professional empowerment for women.
However, a startling finding by Joni Hersch, a professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt University, casts some doubt on this idea. According to Hersch’s study, which is to be published in the Review of Economics in the Household, married mothers who graduate from elite institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and their peers are significantly less likely than graduates from less selective institutions to hold a full-time job. Hersch notes that this trend is concerning because “[e]lite workplaces, like Fortune 500 companies, prefer to hire graduates of elite colleges.” In other words, if women with graduate degrees from elite institutions are opting out of the workforce, companies cannot harness their potential, and these women in turn cannot maximize their influence in their professional field.
Such unexpected results call for a further investigation of the expectations we hold for working women, the goals they set for themselves, and the realities they face in the workplace and the home.
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This infographic was originally featured on MBAPrograms.org