Why Does an MBA Shorten a Woman's Career?

Why Does an MBA Shorten a Woman's Career?

This post originally appeared on MainStreet.

Newly minted MBA recipients can likely expect a busy, financially rewarding career, albeit one filled with long hours at the office.

That is, unless you’re a women with an MBA from an elite university. In that case, there’s a good chance you’ll pull back on any aggressive career path, at least compared with women earning MBAs from “less selective” colleges and universities.

That’s the conclusion drawn from a Vanderbilt University study managed by economics professor Joni Hersch that says women earning MBAs from the nation’s best schools are more likely to stay home and raise children than other women in the workforce. Overall, 60% of female graduates from so-called elite schools work full time, compared with 68% from other colleges and universities.


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“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,” Hersch says.

For most white-collar female workers, the child care question is paramount, she says. Among those elite business school graduates cited in the study, married females without kids are more likely to curb their work hours or even pull out of the workforce altogether.

“Married MBA mothers with a bachelor’s degree from the most selective schools are 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than are graduates of less selective schools,” Hersch says.

The full-time employment rate for U.S. mothers with an MBA is 35%, but that jumps to 66% for those “less selective” colleges.

To Hersch, the issue comes down to kids. She says higher-achieving women MBAs from the best schools in the U.S., for whatever reason, are more likely to take more time away from the workplace to be with them.

One reason—and this is pure speculation—is that a female executive with a degree from Penn or NYU figures she can take time off from her career confident she can always go back to work with a great job, given her academic pedigree.

But that pedigree only goes so far. The Vanderbilt study says taking time off the executive fast track leads to fewer female chief 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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