Glass ceilings and social norms

A recent working paper (gated) by Marianne Bertrand, Sandra Black, Sissal Jensen, and Adriana Llenas-Muney examines a Norwegian law that aimed to put more women in the C-suite. The results are decidedly mixed, from reading the abstract, and I’m not sure what’s to come out of it. One easy conclusion is that there no “virtuous cycle” or “trickle-down” effect from putting more–or more qualified–women into top positions.

My first thought was simply that it hasn’t had time to take effect. The law was only enforced in January 2008, but that doesn’t seem that short unless there’s a binding constraint on the number of educated women who might be eligible for jobs down the line. However, there don’t seem to be any effects on university students’ intended career paths or desired fertility.

You could also criticize the clear selection by firms that decided to stay public and thus had to comply with the law, but if anything, that would bias you towards finding a significant result.

So, is it a question of who is being hired? If these executives are women but don’t display characteristics that make them seem like appropriate role models to young women, we might not expect to see an effect. Or is it that these quotas are in place, but haven’t done anything to affect social norms? If societal expectations to marry and reproduce aren’t seen as compatible with higher earning, higher power jobs, then perhaps we won’t seen an effect at all of more visible women.

The abstract is here:

In late 2003, Norway passed a law mandating 40 percent representation
of each gender on the board of publicly limited liability companies.
The primary objective of this reform was to increase the
representation of women in top positions in the corporate sector and
decrease gender disparity in earnings within that sector.  We
document that the newly (post-reform) appointed female board members
were observably more qualified than their female predecessors, and
that the gender gap in earnings within boards fell substantially.
While the reform may have improved the representation of female
employees at the very top of the earnings distribution (top 5 highest
earners) within firms that were mandated to increase female
participation on their board, there is no evidence that these gains
at the very top trickled-down.  Moreover the reform had no obvious
impact on highly qualified women whose qualifications mirror those of
board members but who were not appointed to boards.  We observe no
statistically significant change in the gender wage gaps or in female
representation in top positions, although standard errors are large
enough that we cannot rule economically meaningful gains.  Finally,
there is little evidence that the reform affected the decisions of
women more generally; it was not accompanied by any change in female
enrollment in business education programs, or a convergence in
earnings trajectories between recent male and female graduates of
such programs.  While young women preparing for a career in business
report being aware of the reform and expect their earnings and
promotion chances to benefit from it, the reform did not affect their
fertility and marital plans.  Overall, in the short run the reform
had very little discernible impact on women in business beyond its
direct effect on the newly appointed female board members.


Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

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