Not all upper-income occupations are the same when it comes to maternal leave: according to a new study, women with MBAs who take professional leave to raise their children are stomaching a greater blow to their income than women with medical degrees.

The study, conducted by Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz and unveiled during a recent conference on workplace flexibility, found that female MBAs who have taken off 18 months earn 41 percent less on average than male MBAs, while female MDs earn 16 percent less than their male counterparts (PhDs and JDs are sandwiched in between). Women are becoming veterinarians and pharmacists in greater numbers than ever before as these professions begin offering more scheduling flexibility. In the medical profession, younger women are turning to gastroenterology and colon and rectal surgery, in addition to other specialties like psychiatry and dermatology, because they can schedule routine colonoscopies and endoscopies in advance and exercise greater control over their hours.

What do analysts feel are the biggest revelations arising from the research?

  • Traditional Explanations for Women's Career Choices Insufficient, explains Steven Greenhouse at The New York Times. Greenhouse cites the authors' argument that while female veterinarians often say they are attracted to the caring nature of the job, this element of the profession hasn't changed much and can't explain the greater number of women entering the field. Instead, the authors claim, it's more accurate to attribute the phenomenon, at least in part, to the rise of back-up veterinary hospitals that deal with animal emergencies at night and on weekends so veterinarians don't have to. Similarly, Greenhouse unpacks the research finding that women aren't only interested in specialties with many female and child patients like Ob-Gyn and pediatrics.
  • Women Choose Professions With Lower Penalty for Child-Bearing, observes The Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger: "The research suggests parents are more hard-headed than many people think in choosing careers. Skilled, educated women have gravitated to teaching for decades because it is actually possible to have a professional job that harmonizes with kids' schedule. Now working women, as well as working men who want to be active dads, are using similar criteria in choosing among the higher-paying professional career paths open today." Shellenbarger adds that the study explains why business schools have a difficult time attracting as many women as men.
  • Women Aren't Only Ones Considering Work-Life Balance, notes Michelle Brandt in Stanford Medicine's blog, Scope. She points to a finding in the journal Academic Medicine that both male and female medical students have become less interested in specialties with unpredictable work hours that leave little time for family and leisure.
  • In Fact, Work-Life Attitudes May Differ More By Generation Than Gender, says The Wall Street Journal's Katherine Hobson, referring to a piece in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology arguing that older physicians tend to prioritize their careers over their families while younger physicians have a more even-keeled approach or even feel their personal lives trump their professional lives.