Melanie Wasserman, UCLA

Informed Choices: Gender Gaps in Career Advice


This paper provides the first causal evidence that gender affects the information an individual receives about careers.
We conduct a large-scale field experiment in which real college students seek career information from 10,000 working professionals. We randomize whether a professional receives a message from a male or a female student.
When students ask broadly for information about a career, female students receive substantially more information on work/life balance relative to male students.
This gender difference persists even when students specifically state an interest in learning about work/life balance. We develop a new methodology to combine our experimental estimates with student preferences for professionals.
Allowing students to choose which professionals they interact with does not reduce gender disparities in access to information, nor does it align the information students receive with the information they demand.The conversations students have with professionals matter: information on work/life balance deters students from their preferred career path.

Melanie Wasseman is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Her research investigates the mechanisms underlying gender differences in labor market and educational outcomes. 

Melanie Wasserman is a labor economist whose research focuses on the mechanisms underlying gender differences in educational, occupational and labor market outcomes. As an assistant professor of economics in the Global Economics and Management area at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, she teaches the Managerial Economics MBA course.

“I was drawn to economics for its way of thinking,” she says, pointing to its theoretical and empirical tools to tackle a broad range of topics. “Studying people through an economic lens entails analysis of decisions that are not typically thought of as ‘economic’ but can wield substantial influence over individuals’ economic lives.”

Women’s entry into the labor force is one of the most noteworthy changes in the U.S. labor market over the last 40 years, and this drives the direction and scope of Wasserman’s research. “Recently, we have witnessed a slowdown in the convergence of male and female economic outcomes, leaving substantial disparities in occupational choice, progression within occupations and compensation. My research sheds light on the mechanisms driving these gaps by examining the role of two forces: 1) whether men and women respond differently to the same workplace institutions and policies; and 2) whether there is differential treatment of men and women in the labor market. Assessing the validity and contribution of these two factors is essential because of their divergent policy prescriptions.”

A key question in her most recent work is whether a job’s non-monetary attributes influence an individual’s choice of job or career. Guided by questions around the number and flexibility of work hours a job requires, frequency of travel and what kind of work environment appeals to potential employees, Wasserman delved into the occupational structure and workplace policies of physicians. “My research revealed that reducing a medical specialty’s time demands during residency encouraged individuals to enter the specialty — and women were much more responsive than men. This finding prompted me to examine whether men’s and women’s disparate responses are fueled by their differing preferences regarding the timing of family formation.”

You can read more about Melanie Wasserman here

CEBI contact: Torben Heien Nielsen & Frederik Plesner Lyngse