Female lawyers earn less than male lawyers in the United States
Gender equality is a work in progress, but some progress has undoubtedly been made.
Women comprised 3.5 percent of enrollees in ABA-approved law schools in 1960. Today, that number is 55.75 percent. What's more, women have outnumbered men in law school classrooms for the last seven years.
Nevertheless, women have a long way to go before they are paid as much as men.
The term “gender wage gap” refers to the difference in earnings between men and women.
Researchers have examined the gender wage gap using a host of calculations, but most have reached the same conclusion: Women consistently earn less than men.
How much are lawyers paid?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the mean annual wage for lawyers in the United States is $148,030.
|Lawyer wages in the United States|
Of course, there's huge variation in salaries depending on the lawyer's particular industry and the part of the country in which they live. Some lawyers will look at the above numbers and wish they could make $61,400, while others will be shocked to learn that some lawyers are being paid so little.
Here's how the annual salaries shake out among the most popular industries for lawyers:
|Attorney wages by industry|
|Occupation||Percent of industry employment||Annual mean wage|
|Legal services||62.49%||$ 110,720|
|Local government||1.86%||$ 96,200|
|State government||4.21%||$ 102,150|
|Federal executive branch||3.58%||$ 123,030|
|Insurance carriers||2.96%||$ 92,620|
And here's how the annual mean wage changes based on the lawyer's geographic location:
As you can see from the map above, the top-paying states for lawyers are:
|Top-paying states for lawyers|
|State||Employment||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage|
|District of Columbia||38,110||$85.34||$177,510|
Taking it a step further and we can see the top-paying metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas for lawyers:
|Top-paying metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas for lawyers|
|Region||Annual mean wage||Region||Annual mean wage|
|San Jose, CA||$182,260||Northwest Colorado||$121,530|
|Washington, DC||$157,060||North Coast Region of California||$108,690|
|New York, NY||$150,940||Northern New York||$108,520|
|San Francisco, CA||$147,890||Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California||$107,690|
|Boulder, CO||$143,100||Central East New York||$106,570|
Does a gender wage gap exist in the United States?
Before looking at lawyers specifically, let's take a look at whether there's a broader gender wage gap in the United States. As a reminder, the “gender wage gap” refers to the difference in earnings between men and women.
The most popular way to determine whether there is a gender wage gap is to look at the ratio of median annual earnings for women working full-time to those of their male counterparts.
Using the most recent data from the United States Census Bureau, women earn, on average, about 83 cents for every $1 earned by men. To put it another way, the gender wage gap in the United States is 17 cents.
Although this is the most popular method used to calculate the gender wage gap, it's not the only method. For example, researchers have also used weekly salaries to calculate the gender wage gap.
Notably, some critics argue that a true gender wage gap doesn't exist. Critics typically point to the fact that wage gap calculations compare the salaries of ALL working women to those of ALL working men, yet men and women don't hold the same jobs. What's more, no two employees are exactly alike.
To this point, some studies show that when you compare the wages of men and women with similar credentials who are working in similar fields, the wage gap largely disappears. A 2021 PayScale report put the difference at one percent when all compensable factors are accounted for, including job title, education, experience, job level, and hours worked.
This opportunity pay gap measures median salary for all men and women.
for every $1 earned by men
This measures median salary for men and women with the same job and qualifications.
for every $1 earned by men
Are male attorneys paid more than female attorneys?
Let's take a look at the median weekly earnings for male lawyers and female lawyers in 2022 to determine if there is a gender wage gap among lawyers in the United States.
|Median weekly earnings|
|Number of workers||Median weekly earnings||Number of workers||Median weekly earnings|
|Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics|
As you can see, male lawyers made approximately $2,687 per week in 2022, and female lawyers earned approximately $2,169.
To put it another way, female lawyers earned 81 cents for every $1 earned by male lawyers.
One of the reasons there is such a significant gender pay gap among lawyers is that women are underrepresented at the uppermost tiers of law firms. According to one study, only 23 percent of equity partners in law firms are women, even though women have made up at least 40 percent of law students for decades.
Women of color are particularly underrepresented in higher-paying positions at law firms, making up only about 3 percent of equity partners in the United States.
The fact that women have been underrepresented at the uppermost tiers of law firms has an obvious and direct impact on their compensation. Shockingly, as women get deeper into their careers, the wage gap widens rather than narrows.
Some argue that women should simply ask for more money, but solving the gender pay gap is not that simple. Research has shown that women ask for raises and promotions as much as men, but they're less likely to be rewarded for it. One study found that male employers are less likely to even hire a woman who negotiates a salary, deeming such women “demanding.”
If we look at all legal occupations—everything from judges to paralegals to legal assistants—the gender pay gap increases substantially. Females in legal occupations earn 62 cents for every $1 earned by males. This disparity likely has to do with the fact that males dominate higher-paying judicial positions, while women dominate lower-paying legal assistant positions.
Will the gender pay gap ever close?
The gender pay gap appears to be narrowing. According to the Pew Research Center:
In 1980, women aged 25 to 34 earned 33 cents less than their male counterparts, compared with 7 cents in 2020. The estimated 16-cent gender pay gap among all workers in 2020 was down from 36 cents in 1980.
It's encouraging that, due in large part to the efforts of celebrities like soccer star Meg Rapinoe, Americans are beginning to talk about the gender gap and demand that it be closed.
According to a 2020 survey, 45 percent of those who said it's important for women to have equal rights with men volunteered equal pay as a specific example of what a society with gender equality might look like.
The American Bar Association Presidential Task Force recently published a report on closing the gender pay gap, which includes numerous recommendations for how to close the gap and limit the attrition among female attorneys.
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