Working Paper No. 1111

What Prevents Female Executives from Reaching the Top?

Published: February 18, 2016, revised September 2017 and March 2018Pages: 68Keywords: CEOs; Compensation; Discrimination; Executives; Gender differencesJEL-codes: G34; J16; J24; J31

What Prevents Female Executives from Reaching the Top? Matti Keloharju, Samuli Knüpfer and Joacim Tåg

Exceptionally rich data from Sweden makes studying the gender gap in executives’ career progression and investigating its causes possible. In their 40s, female executives are about half as likely to be large-company CEOs and about one third less likely to be high earners than males.

Abilities, skills, and education likely do not explain these gaps, because female executives appear better qualified than males. Instead, slow career progression in the five years after the first childbirth explains most of the female disadvantage.

During this period, female executives work on average shorter hours than males and are more often absent from work. Their responses to childbirth are invariant to their career potential relative to their partners. These results suggest aspiring women may not reach the executive suite without trading off family life.


Joacim Tåg


Ph: +46 8 665 4524

Matti Keloharju


Ph: +358 40 353 8043

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Martin Ljunge, IFN, is the author of a chapter, "Trust promotes health: addressing reverse causality by studying children of immigrants", in a new book edited by Sherman Folland and Eric Nauenberg. The cutting edge of research is presented, covering the ever-expanding social capital field.

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