How the economics profession should fix its gender problem
At the heart of economics is a belief in the virtues of open competition as a way of using the resources you have in the most efficient way you can. Thanks to the power of that insight, economists routinely tell politicians how to run public policy and business people how to run their firms. Yet when it comes to its own house, academic economics could do more to observe the standards it applies to the rest of the world. In particular, it recruits too few women. Also, many of those who do work in the profession say they are treated unfairly and that their talents are not fully realised. As a result, economics has fewer good ideas than it should and suffers from a skewed viewpoint. It is time for the dismal science to improve its dismal record on gender.
For decades relatively few women have participated in stem subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. Economics belongs in this list. In the United States women make up only one in seven full professors and one in three doctoral candidates. There has been too little improvement in the past 20 years. And a survey by the American Economics Association (AEA) this week shows that many women who do become academic economists are treated badly.
Only 20% of women who answered the AEA poll said that they are satisfied with the professional climate, compared with 40% of men. Some 48% of females said they have faced discrimination at work because of their sex, compared with 3% of male respondents. Writing about the survey results, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, both former chairs of the Federal Reserve, and Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist of the IMF, said that “many members of the profession have suffered harassment and discrimination during their careers, including both overt acts of abuse and more subtle forms of marginalisation.”