Assimilation, choice, or constraint? Testing theories of gender differences in the careers of lawyers

Kathleen E. Hull, Robert L. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Using data on lawyers in Chicago, we test competing hypotheses derived from three broad theoretical models of gender differences in professional careers: assimilation, choice, and constraint. Men and women begin their careers in different practice contexts and the differences grow over time. The magnitude of these persistent differences argues against an assimilationist view. Some of the divergence in career paths appears attributable to individual choices and preferences, but these do not fully account for the observed gender differences. Human-capital endowments are significant predictors of career positions but also fail to explain the observed gender differences. Women's overrepresentation in less prestigious and less remunerative settings and their underrepresentation in law-firm partnerships suggest that constraints continue to affect women's professional career opportunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-264
Number of pages36
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2000
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
>I- Directcorrespondence to Kathleen E. Hull, Departmentof Sociology, Northwestern University, 1810 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL 60208. This study received funding from the American Bar Foundation, the National Science Foundation (Grant SBR-9411515), and the Law School AdmissionsCouncil. Theopinionsandconclusionscontainedinthisarticlearethoseofthe authorsanddonotnecessarilyreflectthepositionorpolicyofthefunders. Theauthorsgratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of John Heinz, Edward Laumann, Jeff Manza, Ethan Michelson, and Rebecca Sandefur on successive drafts of this article. We also thank Terence Hallidayand otherswho commentedon an earlyversion of this article presented at the 1998 American Sociological Association meeting in San Francisco, California, and the anonymous reviewers at Social Forces.


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