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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where are the female economists?

I teach in a department where the full-time tenure/tenure-track faculty is 43 percent female (6 out of 14); it's an even 50 percent among tenured associate (2 out of 4) and full (4 out of 8) professors (for anyone following the math, that leaves 2 assistant professors, both male). For any non-economists reading this, those percentages are highly unusual, even for a non-Ph.D.-granting institution. According to the 2010 Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (full disclosure: I'm on the Board), at Ph.D.-granting institutions, only 10.7% of full professors and 21.8% of tenured associate professors are women; at liberal arts institutions, those numbers are 25% and 32.7%, respectively. I also work in a sub-field (economics of education) that tends to have a lot of women, both economists and non-economists. And I spend a lot of time thinking about, and talking to people about, teaching economics, which tends to be an area that attracts relatively more women.

My point with all this is that it is easy for me to forget that economics is an incredibly male-dominated field. But then I read things like the CSWEP report and Matthew Kahn's recent article, which asked where are the female economics bloggers?, and I am reminded a) why I stick to my blissfully gender-balanced little sub-fields and b) that I should give thanks every day for my awesome department.

Kahn's question stems from his observation that while there are 52 women among the "top 1000" economists, none of them blog. In contrast, at least 14 men among only the "top 200" economists are bloggers. His definition of "top" comes from the rankings on RePEc (Research Papers in Economics). The article has prompted at least a couple good responses - Jodi Beggs points out that a lot of economics blogging is argumentative, which women may prefer to avoid, and EconomistMom Diane Lim Rogers seems to suggest that the self-involved nature of blogging appeals more to men. Rogers also hits on something broader, about why there is a lack of women in economics overall (and also captures part of why I personally tend to dislike a lot of economists). She says, "It could be because we women often find disciplines that assume everything can be objectively, precisely, formulaically valued, very limiting at best and maybe downright wrong at worst." And commenters on both those posts point out that there are women economist bloggers out there and Kahn's focus on "excellent" is problematic (though I have to say, regardless of where they rank on publications, there are still relatively few female economics bloggers).

For me, the question raised in Kahn's headline is really the least of my concerns - forget 'where are the female economics bloggers', how about simply 'where are the female economists'? While Kahn does suggest that the absence of female bloggers might be a problem, I would argue that it is a far bigger problem that only 52 out of the "top 1000" economists are women! Of course, the low number is partly a function of the metric he's using (basically, publication in mainstream econ journals). A commenter on Beggs' post notes that a lot of women economists focus on topics that are less likely to be found in those journals (that certainly describes me, considering only about 20% of the items on my C.V. are listed on RePEc). But that just begs the question of why women economists are more likely to choose paths that are less 'mainstream'.

It seems to me that the sorts of issues that lead female economists to be less likely to blog are similar to why women are less likely to choose economics in the first place. But although I could go on (or perhaps 'go off' is a better way to put it) for days about why econ is so male-dominated, and why there are so few women at the 'top' of the profession (and why this is a problem for everyone), I always dread that conversation because I find that there is simply no way to discuss the issue without getting into all kinds of gender stereotypes/generalities that are sure to annoy someone. Kahn does it when he suggests that women economists are busy with 'home production' (which is offensive on many levels), but Beggs and Rogers do it too; I just happen to agree with their stereotypes, partly because they seem more flattering to women. Still, it is an issue worth discussing, and a particularly important one for those of us who care about economics education. Whatever the reasons for economics being such a male-dominated field currently, certainly what we do in our classrooms has a role in changing that in the future. So I guess that's one more thing to add to my list of 'stuff to write more about when I have time'...


  1. I once read an article (online, not journal article) that the reception of what a blogger writes is very different whether the name indicates a male or female writer.

    The same I believe applies to commenters' perceived gender as well as offline authors (though in that case, the possibility of anonymity is reduced, so the studies are a bit more difficult).

    Many (at least relative to how many there were in the first place) female bloggers in the tech domain have also either left blogging or set up anonymous blogs to get away from the online abuse that their 'writing while female' generated.

    So it could be that the missing female economist bloggers are simply anonymous, or maybe they truly are missing because the work of blogging seems a lot less fun if you cannot get some credit for it under your real name...

    [A female, non-blogger, economist]


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