Significant gender and racial/ethnic gaps have been observed in the economics profession, a reality with roots in the decisions of undergraduates and their professors. Indeed, despite representing almost 60 percent of the U.S. college population, women account for only 30 percent of economics majors. While disparities in knowledge of economics and its value undoubtedly exist before students set foot on college campuses, economists could do more to directly address student misperceptions and knowledge gaps. This paper reports the results of a field experiment in which faculty provided incoming students with information about economics via two emails sent in the summer as students considered courses for their first semester of college. We evaluate whether this outreach has an impact on course taking using a randomized control trial involving 2,710 students across nine U.S. colleges with a strong record of sending students to PhD programs in economics. We randomly assign all incoming women and members of underrepresented minority groups to one of three experimental conditions: a control (no email messaging), a simple “Welcome” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses), and a “Welcome+Info” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses plus information showcasing the diversity of research and researchers within economics and providing links to educational materials on the AEA’s website). The Welcome+Info treatment increases the likelihood of completing an economics course in the first semester of college by 3.0 percentage points, which is nearly 20 percent of the baseline rate. Additional exploratory analyses suggest stronger effects on first-generation college students. Our results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field.That last sentence, "how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field," highlights one of my longstanding frustrations. I hate that so many people in the world do not know the economics field that I know, that I am constantly explaining to people how the ed policy work I do is completely typical of the applied micro work that a lot of economists do, and that economics is much more about choices and behavior than business and money. Sigh.
At any rate, the intervention these authors used strikes me as a pretty darn simple way to diversify our economics classrooms and I really encourage everyone to share this with your colleagues and consider how you could do something similar at your own institution!