Raising the bar: the gender stratification of law-firm capital

Fiona M. Kay*, John Hagan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Controversy surrounds the selection of women and men for partnerships in law firms. Two structural theories explain the greater success of men in achieving partnership. Human capital theory emphasizes investment choices and productivity; gender stratification theory highlights institutional constraints and bias. We incorporate Bourdieu's (1984) cultural capital perspective, which emphasizes both tangible structural sources of social capital and less tangible cultural resources and dispositions. We find that measures of social capital and cultural dispositions favorable to a firm's monetary goals explain some of the preference given to men in partnership decisions. Even with these differences controlled, however, women have poorer prospects for partnership. We also consider whether there is a 'kind of woman lawyer,' one with exceptional structural and cultural characteristics, that is given preference relative to other women. While men are valued for traditional corporate family images, women are rewarded for breaking convention in giving priority to work outside the home, bringing in corporate clients, and endorsing the goals of the law-firm culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-743
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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