Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 469–506 | Cite as

Opting out among women with elite education

  • Joni HerschEmail author


Whether highly educated women are exiting the labor force to care for their children has generated a great deal of media attention, even though academic studies find little evidence of opting out. This paper shows that female graduates of elite institutions have lower labor market involvement than their counterparts from less selective institutions. Although elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages, and have higher expected earnings, there is little difference in labor market activity by college selectivity among women without children and women who are not married. But the presence of children is associated with far lower labor market activity among married elite graduates. Most women eventually marry and have children, and the net effect is that labor market activity is on average lower among elite graduates than among those from less selective institutions. The largest gap in labor market activity between graduates of elite institutions and less selective institutions is among MBAs, with married mothers who are graduates of elite institutions 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective institutions.


Opting out Married women Female graduates Elite institutions Women graduates Mothers Labor market activity 

JEL Classification

I21 J16 J22 



I thank Alison Del Rossi, Shoshana Grossbard, Sharon Shewmake, Bruce Weinberg, and seminar participants at the University of Wyoming and Sewanee: The University of the South for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vanderbilt Law SchoolNashvilleUSA

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