Elite Universities and Women's Careers--Posner's Response to Comments
I cannot do justice to 135 comments! I have learned a great deal from them, but I will have to be highly selective in responding.
Let me make clear at the outset that it was not my intention to "lash out at women (or men) who take time off to raise their kids," or to turn men or women into wage slaves, discourage women from working or having children, or, for that matter, dictate admissions policies. Some comments suggest that I want women to stay home, others that I want them to work. I merely want them to make an unbiased choice. The point of my posting was to make the economic point that rationing scarce places in elite professional schools on the basis of grade point average and performance on standardized tests may result in turning away applicants who might be more productive because they would have longer working careers.
One comment adds a reason for my concern that I had not thought of, which is that admission to public professional schools, some of them elite (such as the law schools of Berkeley, Virginia, and the University of Michigan), is subsidized by state taxpayers. It is odd to subsidize the professional education of people who are not going to make a full commitment to the profession at the expense of people who would. Do taxpayers know that this is how their tax dollars are being spent?
The point to be emphasized is that, given scarcity of places, admitting X means rejecting Y; if Y, though a slightly worse student than X, is going to spend much more time in the workforce, what exactly is the good reason for admitting X rather than Y?
Now one interesting answer suggested by a commenter is that there is a market demand, on the part of law firms and other employers of lawyers (and other professionals), for more women; and if there is a high drop-out rate of women, law schools may have to adopt admission policies that assure that half or more of the students are female so that after drop-out there will be enough women left in the professional workforce to satisfy the market demand.
Similarly, if public interest law is assumed to confer net social benefits, and women are disproportionately drawn to public interest work (as several comments suggested), then, again given the drop-out factor, there is an argument for admissions policies that attract women.
A number of the comments complain about working conditions in law and other professions--about employer demands that make it difficult for women to work and have children. But there are many law jobs, for example in government, but also in many corporate legal departments, that are not as demanding as jobs in high-pressure law firms; my guess (and it is only a guess) is that even in those lighter jobs, there is a higher female than male drop-out rate.
One of my female former law clerks suggested that the logic of my position requires me to institute a system of penalties and rewards to make sure that I just hire women who are going to devote their lives to the law. But I am too selfish for that. I want to hire the very best applicants, regardless of the likely duration of their legal careers, and, therefore, regardless of whether they are male or female. But I have made a contract with this former clerk whereby I will buy her dinner once a year for as long as she remains in the profession, and if she leaves she will then buy me dinner once a year unless and until she returns to full-time legal work. Because of the difference in our life expectancies, this is a very disadvantageous contract from my standpoint. I hope that those commenters who took sharp exception to my posting will feel that I have been adequately as well as justly punished.