Research has shown that despite concerns over mental health and burnout among lawyers, job satisfaction rates remain high across the legal profession and that rates are similar between men and women. However, a new study finds that two subsegments of law graduates – Asian women and Black women – report “strikingly low” job satisfaction rates.
Gender, Race, and Job Satisfaction of Law Graduates: Intersectional Evidence from the National Survey of College Graduates, a study by Vanderbilt Law Professor Joni Hersch, uses data from nearly 13,000 law graduates surveyed between 2003 and 2019 to examine if job satisfaction differs by race and whether there is an intersectional relationship between gender and race/ethnicity.
Hersch found that satisfaction gaps were not related to differences in personal characteristics, social class background, elite educational degrees, breadwinner and parenthood responsibilities, student debt, job descriptions, values placed on aspects of work such as contributions to society or salary, or own earnings. Given the large number of variables that Hersch’s models accounted for, she finds it unlikely that individual circumstances explain the disparities.
“Black women and Asian women report strikingly lower job satisfaction with salary, intellectual challenge, and level of responsibility relative to White men and relative to men of their own race,” she says. “Asian women are also much less satisfied with job security and opportunities for advancement. White women have lower satisfaction relative to White men with these work characteristics, but with a smaller gap.”
“In contrast, there is little difference in job satisfaction by race and gender with benefits, location, independence, or contributions to society.”
More research is required to better understand the low satisfaction rates among these two groups of women law graduates, but Hersch surmises that institutional barriers are to blame.
“A common perception is that women in the legal profession are given fewer or less valuable professional opportunities than are men,” she explains. “The study supports that perception, especially for Black women and Asian women.”
The legal profession has long struggled to bolster and maintain diversity in its workforce – a 2016 American Bar Association report describes it as “one of the least diverse professions in the nation.” Hersch hopes this study will motivate employers to increase opportunities for Black women and Asian women law graduates in order to improve job satisfaction, reduce turnover, and create a more diverse legal landscape.
“The satisfaction gap between White men and White women, Black men, Asian men, and Latinx men is far smaller than the gap between White men and Black women and Asian women. A starting point for employers would be to examine whether their diversity efforts are contributing to a satisfaction gap that fails to account for the intersection of race and gender,” she says. “Employers can turn their efforts to target specific areas of lower satisfaction.”
Gender, Race, and Job Satisfaction of Law Graduates: Intersectional Evidence from the National Survey of College Graduates is forthcoming in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies and is available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4350041.