If these women were sticking it out in the business, law, and academic worlds, now, thirty years after feminism started filling the selective schools with women, the elite workplaces should be proportionately female. They are not. Law schools have been graduating classes around 40 percent female for decades--decades during which both schools and firms experienced enormous growth. And although the legal population will be 40 percent female in 2010, in 2003, the major law firms had only 16 percent female partners, according to the American Bar Association. The Harvard Business School has produced classes around 30 percent female. Yet only 10.6 percent of Wall Street's corporate officers are women, and a mere nine are Fortune 500 CEOs. The percentage of women in state legislatures has scarcely budged from 23 percent in 1997.
So what does this "elite minority" have to do with the rest of the world? These educated and privileged women matter. They matter because they are the most likely women to become the rising stars of the new economy--the future senators, deal makers, newspaper editors, research scientists, policy makers, television writers and movie producers, university presidents, and Supreme Court justices. Alarm bells should ring when people say things like elites don't matter only when the subject is women. You never see the New York Times, or for that matter the lefty Nation magazine, arguing that Congress's decisions don't matter, because most people aren't congressmen. Can you imagine the Wall Street Journal asserting that CEOs' decisions don't matter because most people can't aspire to be CEOs? Ever read in the sports page that quarterbacks don't matter because they are the elite of football teams? Or that Henry Ford IV doesn't matter because most auto workers are not presidents of Ford?
Why would leading women matter? Well, media surveys reveal, for instance, that if only one member of a television show's creative staff is female, the percentage of women on-screen goes up from 36 percent to 42 percent. A world of 84 percent male lawyers and 84 percent female assistants is a different place from one with women role models in positions of social authority. Think of a big American city with an 84 percent white police force. If role models don't matter, consider how an all-male Supreme Court is going to feel. We are about to find out, I fear. Highly educated women's abandonment of the workplace is not an extension of the centuries of upper-class arm candy; it's a sex-specific brain drain from the future rulers of our society.
But interestingly these select women are not alone. Without regard to class, in 2004, only 38 percent of married mothers with husbands and children under one in the house worked full time--13 percent work part time, another 3 percent are looking for work. Married women with children under five and a husband around worked at a rate of only 62 percent, but, again, about one third of that statistic is probably women doing part-time work. Whether the trend is for increasing participation or not, the raw numbers are low. Moreover, the assignment of responsibility for the household to women applies in every social class.