...is medicine, according to a study by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz, which David Leonhardt explores in his column today. (At least among high-paying careers.) As Leonhardt writes: 

Finance, on this score, is worse than law and worse than academia. It is far worse than medicine, which emerges from the research as the highly paid profession with the most flexibility. Near finance at the bottom of the list is consulting, another field that became more popular in the last two decades. ...

After surveying Harvard College alumni 15 years after graduation, Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz estimated the average financial penalty for someone who had taken a year and a half off and then returned to work. In medicine, that person earned 16 percent less than a similar doctor who had not taken time off. Among people with no graduate degree, the gap was 25 percent. For both lawyers and Ph.D.’s, it was about 29 percent.

For M.B.A.’s, a group dominated by finance workers and consultants, it was 41 percent.

Interestingly, Goldin and Katz find evidence that, the more women enter a field, the more family-friendly it becomes, as previously insurmountable logistical challenges suddenly get surmounted:  

A telling example of a flexible field, Ms. Goldin points out, is obstetrics. It seems to be the archetypal field that must operate on someone’s else clock — a baby’s. Yet as the ranks of female obstetricians have grown, they have figured out how to change that.

Group practices are now the norm, and the doctors take turns being on call. A family’s primary obstetrician isn’t guaranteed to be the one who delivers the baby. In many practices, every doctor will see a woman at least once during her pregnancy, so she knows everyone who may deliver her baby.

Wall Street, consulting firms and law firms have resisted this group approach to work. The partners claim the work is too complicated to be handed from one employee to another. In some cases, that’s no doubt true. Often, though, I bet it isn’t. “Why are women’s bodies less complicated than someone’s account?” Ms. Goldin wryly asks.

It sounds like that would change if half the executives at big financial institutions were women. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a Catch-22 involved, since women may not enter a field in large numbers if they can't strike an agreeable work-life balance, but the field won't accommodate such a balance until a critical mass of women enter it.

--Noam Scheiber