The Wall Street Journal has a startling statistic: the number of women on Wall Street has shrunk 2.6% in the past 10 years.
The decline of women on Wall Street is not a recent event tied to the credit crisis. Even during the real estate boom years, the ranks of women were declining.
The decline is isolated to younger women who recently entered the work force. The number of women aged 20 to 24 fell 21.8%. The number of women over 55 who are employed in financial services has grown by 56%, vastly outpacing the 34% growth in the number of over-55 year old men.
This is all the more startling because Wall Street has unquestionably become far more sensitive about gender issues over the last decade.
The kind of sexist hazing that some women once experienced on trading floors is largely a thing of the past. Sexual harassment training — which is to say, training in how not to commit sexual harassment is mandatory, as are maternity leave policies. Sex discrimination cases dropped by 28% over the decade.
So why have young women been fleeing Wall Street?
The Journal finds two plausible explanations for this. The first is that technological advances have eliminated many of the back office jobs that disproportionately employed women in finance. Gone are many of the women who once performed the role of 'administrative agent' for loans, for example.
The other is that Wall Street is just not as attractive to women. As compensation has come under pressure, many women may simply not want to submit themselves to the grind that is the life of a junior investment banker. Grace Tsiang, a University of Chicago economics professor, guesses that many of the women who left Wall Street decided to have and raise children rather than stay on the job.
One possibility left unexplored is that young women are learning from the example of the elders. Looking at the women who arrived on Wall Street in the 1970s and early 1980s, the younger cohort may have decided that the sacrifices made by the older generation were simply not worth it.