< Back to front page Text size +

Work vs. family, finance vs. medicine

Posted by Christopher Shea  May 27, 2009 01:34 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Harvard economist Claudia Goldin

I was surprised when someone other than the obstetrician we'd been seeing regularly delivered my son when he was born a few years ago. But it turns out that, these days, that's the way ob/gyn partnerships work: the partners in ob/gyn offices allocate specific nights of the week to each other, in advance. (These partnerships also try to ensure that patients meet all of the doctors in the practice.) That way, doctors have certain nights when they are on call, and certain nights when they can relax. As a result, obstetricians can lead reasonably sane family lives (at least once their training is done), rather than leading lives in which the phone could ring at any moment, summoning them to work.

This, it is not to strong to say, amounts to a revolution in medical practice. Medicine was losing talented women who didn't want to be on call 24 hours a day for the rest of their lives. (And in the end my wife and I were quite happy with the affable guy who fielded our nine-pounder cleanly.)

Drawing on work by the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, David Leonhardt, the New York Times's economics columnist, points out that 1) this change in the ob/gyn field occurred because female doctors demanded it; and 2) other fields, notably finance, have rejected the promising model out of hand. The result is that medicine has become a surprisingly family-friendly profession -- at least once doctors hit their mid-30s (a significant caveat Leonhardt slights, given the biological-clock issue). Finance, meanwhile, has become a uniquely punishing profession for women with family aspirations. When a female M.B.A. takes 18 months off to care for a child, for example, her earnings dive by some 41 percent over the long term. And she's back to those 70-hour weeks. Doctors who take that much time off are set back only 16 percent. And many, many more of them keep their weekly hours under 40.

The arguments from Wall Streeters and management consultants about why sharing work across partnerships would never work -- why the ob/gyn model wouldn't fly (and no partner can ever leave at 5 p.m.) -- border on the risible. As Leonardt writes: "The partners claim the work is too complicated to be handed from one employee to another. In some cases, that's no doubt true. Often, though, I bet it isn't. 'Why are women's bodies less complicated than someone's account?' Ms. Goldin wryly asks."

The article suggests that the top male talent in finance is heavily invested in the status quo -- possibly because they have stay-at-home wives who tend to the home front, which gives the men a competitive advantage against family-oriented co-workers.

In such an environment, women (and men) with different ideals get steamrolled.

(Photo: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


Browse this blog

by category