[Excerpt] This book is a case study of one profession that plays a key role in the health care sector, which now represents about one seventh of the U.S. economy. It examines the most dramatic demographic change in this sector in the last century. But the issues we raise are likely to be of interest more broadly for what they say about the changing roles of women in contemporary society. Women's entry into medicine is taken as dramatic evidence that the barriers to opportunity for women are rapidly falling in America. Does the experience of female physicians to date bear out this optimistic view? An alternative view is that gender roles remain deeply entrenched in our institutions and culture. Specifically, the gender division of household labor continues to constrain the choices of all women. The trade-offs between work and family may be clearest in the most demanding professions, such as law and medicine, which require a high degree of professional devotion.
Our study builds on the fine histories of women in medicine written by Walsh, Morantz-Sanchez, and More. The analysis presented here focuses on the period since 1970, thus complementing the important studies of Bowman and colleagues and Bickel. Lorber examined the experiences of the generation of women who pioneered the transformation of the profession. With the benefit of additional decades of perspective, we are in a position to examine whether the role of gender in medicine is changing.