We need to talk about how female economists are treated

Caroline Freund a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics has a damning post on state of affairs in economics.

Economists have this habit of talking of talking about diversity, inclusion etc. But fail to look within:

When I was an undergraduate studying economics in the 1980s, I got an early lesson in how men view women in the workforce. I was writing a thesis about the well-known phenomenon of women being paid less than men for the same jobs. One of my professors challenged the basic premise that bias was a possible reason for the wage gap. If women really did get paid less for the same work, he argued, a smart company would hire all women and undercut its competitors.

No female professor would have made such a zealous claim. But I was never taught by a female economics professor. It is no surprise since economics has traditionally been the social science with the lowest share of women. Even today, less than 15 percent of full professors in economics at universities are women.

A remarkable new paper by a female student at Berkeley showed this summer that the problem in economics is so deep that it borders on misogyny. 

The paper she points is even more damning.

What is the way out?

How can we change these norms? Increasing the number of women economists is the first step. People behave better in more diverse company.

Economics knowledge would also benefit from having more female practitioners. If economists are mostly men, women’s economic concerns get overlooked. Since women started becoming doctors in the 1970s, women’s health outcomes have improved markedly, especially on ailments unique to women. If more women became economists, we would likely see more research and policy options pertaining to women’s economic well-being. Indeed, all of the studies mentioned above were done by women.

Not only would the scope of research go up, but the quality would as well. Students do better when they have a good role model. Research shows that more diverse groups perform better on tasks. Similarly, companies with more women in the C-suite have been shown to outperform their less diverse peers.

The economics profession needs more women to ask and answer the important questions. It needs more women to ensure that economic policy options are inclusive. It also needs more women to improve its culture.


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