Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Year's Career News in Review

For my final blog of 2010, I decided it would be a useful exercise to look back at the 600+ tweets I’ve issued on Twitter in order to follow up on some, comment on the significance of others, and call your attention to some important ones you may have missed. (If you’re not already following me, my handle is LaurenceShatkin.)

In January, I mentioned that the Department of Labor was asking people to vote for their favorite career sites. The top vote-getters are now listed as Tools for America’s Job Seekers at the Career OneStop site. For example, the set of tools includes some social media sites and niche job boards that I’d never heard of before.

Several tweets dealt with the career prospects for lawyers. This career no longer guarantees high salaries and lots of job offers. One fascinating blog by a law professor shows how salaries for lawyers cluster around two levels, roughly $50,000 and $150,000. It’s almost like two separate careers, what statisticians call a bimodal distribution.

One theme that appeared in many tweets was the loss of public-sector jobs that has resulted from tight budgets at the municipal and state level. For example, Colorado Springs laid off firefighters, a vice team, burglary investigators, and beat cops, cut back on the hours of park maintenance workers, stopped repaving roads, and reduced bus service.

It’s worth taking another look at the predictions of the researchers at IBISWorld for the best-performing (i.e., those with most revenue growth) industry sectors of the coming decade. It’s interesting to note that most of them involve STEM careers and several of them will provide many green jobs.

Rank

Best Performing

Growth

1

Voice Over Internet Protocol Providers (VoIP)

149.6%

2

Retirement & Pension Plans

133.7%

3

Biotechnology

127.6%

4

eCommerce & Online Auctions

124.7%

5

Environmental Consulting

120.3%

6

Video Games

112.9%

7

Trusts & Estates

105.7%

8

Search Engines

100.9%

9

Recycling Facilities

80.9%

10

Land Development

72.7%

Another interesting prediction came from the software giant Cisco, who predicted that the smart grid will have a bigger market impact than the Internet. This sounds like hyperbole to me, but even a half of that impact would still mean tens of thousands of jobs.

Speaking of predictions, it’s worth taking another look at the list of pundits and supposed experts who were wrong about the housing bubble (by saying there was none).

Green jobs have been a continuing interest in mine. I think it’s worth repeating here that the O*NET developers have created an excellent directory of Web-based resources about green jobs. It’s a PDF with clickable links.

My favorite career-related video of the year: An animation that makes an economics lecture come alive. You'll find that economics can be a lot more fun than you thought possible. You'll also learn what really motivates workers. (It’s not pay.)

I hope the coming year is a good one for you and for your career.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Insights into the Mommy Track, Part 2

This is another blog about women's career issues, prompted in part by my recent research for Quick Nontraditional Careers Guide: Eight Steps for Defying Traditional Gender Roles, which will be published in June. Last week I wrote about a study that found high-skill women suffer a greater wage impact from the mommy track than do low-skill women. This week I’d like to discuss another study, this one showing that highly educated women face different levels of wage damage from the mommy track depending on their occupation.

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, economists at Harvard, in “The Career Cost of Family”(PDF), find that the earnings penalty of the mommy track is decreasing in many high-end careers. Specifically, many of these careers, especially in health care, have become more family-friendly than they were in the past, perhaps because of the increased presence of women in them. Corporate and financial occupations, on the other hand, are not progressing as rapidly.

Like last week’s study, this one is based on longitudinal research. In this case, the subjects were a very high-powered group: graduates of Harvard College between 1969 and 1992. The study found that although women are increasing their presence in high-level occupations, they are tending to choose professions and specializations within professions that offer the greatest flexibility of work hours.

The really interesting part of the report, called “Occupational Vignettes,” explains how and why women are moving into certain professions and specializations.

Among the fields of medicine, women account for 42 percent of workers under 45 years of age. In the specializations ob-gyn, pediatrics, dermatology, child psychology, and medical genetics, they account for more than half of all practitioners. “They exceed their average of 42 percent but are less than 50 percent in allergy and immunology, family practice, psychiatry, pathology, public health, general preventive medicine, internal medicine, and forensic pathology.” The general trend is that women are opting for specializations with fewer regularly occurring on-call, emergency, or night hours, and they’re avoiding those with the longest residency or fellowship requirements.

One of the most dramatic increases in female participation has been among veterinarians. In the 2007–2008 academic year, 77 percent of the DVM degrees went to women. Why? “Compelling evidence suggests that the increasing ability of many veterinarians to schedule their hours and reduce or eliminate on-call, night, and weekend hours has been a contributory factor.” Regional veterinary hospitals and emergency centers are serving this function, lifting the burden from veterinary practices. “About 40 percent of female veterinarians in private practice in 2007 (versus 27 percent of male veterinarians) stated that they put in no emergency hours.” It is also becoming more commonplace for veterinarians in a private practice to be employees rather than partners, an arrangement that encourages greater job flexibility.

Women with MBAs have a very different experience. The researchers find that these women “have the lowest labor force participation rates, the longest periods of job interruption when they have children, and forfeit the largest fraction of their income when they take time off.” Although they start out with pay equal to that of male MBAs, a decade later they are earning 55 percent of the men’s earnings. The researchers found three roughly equal factors that account for the bulk of the difference: different training prior to receipt of the MBA (e.g., fewer courses in finance), career interruptions (usually the mommy track), and shorter work hours (also usually the mommy track). Those MBA mothers with high-earning husbands are most likely to quit working or opt for self-employment; the others tend to cut back on work hours. The reduction in participation and work hours is actually greater three or four years after the first birth than in the first couple of years. “It is as if some MBA moms try to stay in the fast lane but ultimately find it is unworkable.”

In pharmacy, women account for almost 70 percent of new degree recipients. Like veterinarians, pharmacists have shifted from being stakeholders in a business (more than 35 percent were self-employed in 1970) to being employees (0.6 percent were self-employed in 2008). Optometry has made the same shift, and women are now 66 percent of new degree recipients.

The report ends with a chart (below) that shows the 87 highest-paid occupations from 2006–2008, with different shapes representing different industries. (The chart is based on data from the Current Population Survey.) Horizontally, the further to the right, the higher the earnings. Vertically, the further below the zero line (which is near the top), the greater the earnings gap between men and women. You’ll note that, as a group, the business occupations (red squares) have the biggest gap.

Note also that the technology occupations (green triangles) have the smallest gap. As an explanation, the authors of the report speculate, “One possibility is that the technology occupations are so recent that their work organizations are structured to deal better with a labor force that needs greater work flexibility.” Regardless of the reason, this small gap is one more reason why women should consider STEM careers. For more on this topic, see Quick STEM Careers Guide: Four Steps to a Great Job in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, due out next month.




Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Insights into the Mommy Track, Part I

Women’s career issues are a frequent topic of this blog, and I have been thinking about them again while putting the finishing touches on a manuscript, Quick Nontraditional Careers Guide: Eight Steps for Defying Traditional Gender Roles, due to be published in June. I also wrote about these issues in the volume about nontraditional careers that is part of Progressive Careers. This week I also learned about two new research studies that cast additional light on this subject, showing that the consequences of the mommy track vary greatly. More highly skilled women, particularly in certain fields, suffer a greater penalty for choosing to have children.

David Ellwood, Elizabeth Ty Wilde, and Lily Batchelder, in “The Mommy Track Divides: The Impact of Childbearing on Wages of Women of Differing Skill Levels” (PDF), wanted to know why childbearing by female college graduates has declined so much. Among those born in the early 1940s, nearly 50% of them had borne children by age 25, and only 18% were childless at age 40. Among the cohort born 20 years later, only 20% had borne children by age 25, and more than 25% remained childless at age 40. By comparison, in both generations, women who were not college graduates bore children earlier in life, with little generational difference in their timing.

The researchers hypothesized that the college grads were postponing childbearing to allow themselves time to establish a career and thus minimize the wage impact of the mommy track.

The researchers used data from a longitudinal study, dividing the women into low-skill and high-skill groups based on their performance on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. (They used that rather than college attendance, because early childbearing clearly can and does influence education.) They then compared the income trajectories of the two groups and found that the low-skill group had a trajectory that not only was flatter (as would be expected) than that of the high-skill group but also less affected by child-bearing. Having children later or not at all improved their earnings only modestly. For the high-skill women, however, the income rise was steeper but leveled off when they bore children, a mommy penalty that persisted even a decade after childbirth. But by postponing childbirth, the high-skill women had achieved a higher pre-child earning level and therefore leveled off at a higher plateau. In other words, for high-skill women it pays to establish a career before having children (if ever). This would explain the historical fertility and timing differences mentioned earlier.

Another interesting question is why women’s earnings suffer after child-bearing. Is it because they shift to part-time work or a less demanding occupation, leave their employer (thus losing human capital), or drop out of the workforce entirely (thus forgoing work experience)? The researchers found that all these behaviors have an impact, but there is additional impact that can’t be explained by these. Even women who stay full-time in the same occupation with the same employer suffer a 14% loss in earnings. Evidently, some other factor, such as discrimination or a perceived loss of career commitment, is depressing earnings.

It’s useful to note what the researchers found about high-skill men’s earnings. Like the high-skill women, those who postponed parenthood had higher earnings, but the arrival of parenthood had a much smaller impact than it had on the women. Most interesting was the finding that men who remained childless had the lowest earnings of all in the high-skill group. There’s a chicken-egg problem here: Does fatherhood make men strive more, or do low-earning men make less attractive partners for starting a family?

Apart from its findings about the wage penalty of the mommy track, this study produces two disturbingly different portraits of child-bearing behavior. One, among low-skill women, consists of child-bearing at a young age, much more often outside of marriage, with low earnings and little prospect of a large increase in earnings later on. The other behavior, among high-skill women, consists of child-bearing by a typically married couple in their peak earning years. You can imagine very different outcomes for the children in these two scenarios.

In next week’s blog I’ll write about a different study that looks at how, among highly educated women, different occupations cause the mommy track to have different impacts.