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Women in Economics: Why it Matters – Part II

Carolina Alves

Some may think that the gender balance in economics is fine and gradually improving. Yet the proportion of women in economics has on average not increased significantly since the 1970s. We find in the UK similar trends to that observed in the U.S. by Bayer and Rouse. What’s more, Lundberg and Stearns look at the gender composition of academic economists over the past 25 years and argue that the progress of women has, in fact, stalled relative to that in other disciplines in the past two decades.

According to Boring and Zignago, the average number of women in economics is 19% globally, in the UK it is around 28%, although according to Mumford, diminishing. Particularly in the UK, there has been a persistence of the gender gap at the application stage. As in the U.S., this imbalance is more skewed at senior levels, showing that women are less likely than men to progress at each successive step along the career path (CSWEP, 2017).

Although it is tempting to argue many fields experience this problem, numbers for the US show the landscape in other academic disciplines is not as bad as it is for economics. STEM subjects and other social sciences are more popular among female and minority undergrads than economics. In 2014, the share of US bachelor’s degrees awarded to women/minorities in STEM, social sciences and economics was 58%, 59% and 28%, respectively. Ginther and Kahn show gender gaps in both tenure and promotion rates in economics are 20% and 50%, respectively, compared to 12% and 25% in the social sciences. They also argue that economics is an outlier in terms of promotions and a wage gap.

This gloomy scenario is further darkened in Wu’s study of gender stereotyping in economics and the culture of our subject: an aggressive intellectual culture that patronises female colleagues (something that many of us knew). The evidence of a complicated environment for women in economics is reinforced by Sarsons whose findings show that for women in economics, unlike for men, co-authoring with other people can have a negative effect on the chance of tenure. More generally, Dion, Sumner and Mitchell show that women’s work is less likely to be cited by men, particularly in more male-dominated fields. Women in academia also experience the motherhood citation penalty while the same cannot be said for dad academics.

There are many hypotheses to explain the above and indeed we have to look at both the supply and demand factors driving the lack of women in economics. However, more often than not, it is easy (and appealing) to dismiss the lack of women in economics as differential constraints or preferences rather than a function of social norms. These norms are certainly immersed within the patriarchal features of our society, and we have to be able to acknowledge this when trying to understand why economics has failed to attract and retain women at every stage of the career pipelines.

Gender matters in the policy debate as male and female economists, on average, have different political views. For example, May, McGarvey and Whaples find that male economists express greater opposition to mandating that employers provide health insurance than female economists. The same male economists are generally more likely to see the costs associated with government intervention and are more likely to see a loss of employment from raising the minimum wage.

If these differences are not enough for the profession as whole, i.e., economists of all genders, engage on events and discussions about the lack of women in economics, we should then critically think of the academic culture, gendered institutional policies and implicit bias that build the barriers that female economists face in publishing, promotion, and tenure. It seems unlikely that anyone in the profession would wish to reinforce, or be complacent to this ‘stalled progress’ of our peers.

What’s more, institutionally and historically-constructed gender-related norms, values, and behaviour affect the way we live and socialise. Then why has a large part of macroeconomic scholarship ignored this? Data shows ‘genderisation’ exists (unpaid activities amount to 70% of total world output valued at prevailing wages; and 69% represents women’s work, UNDP), so why haven’t we come up with macro policies to directly address this issue? Why haven’t we been giving more emphasis on the impacts (direct and indirect) that social infrastructure in education, childcare, health and social care have on productivity, for example?

Although these questions seem to be related to women, these are not issues that only women should be dealing with. As economists are concerned with their empirical evidence and accuracy when modelling reality, we cannot do macroeconomics without including gender.

We lose with both the lack of gender balance and the failure to account for the impacts that gendered socialisation have on growth, economic development and (macro) economic policies. The overall disengagement from male economists in gender-related topics should stop. Equally important, female economists should not feel they need women-only events in economics to nurture women economists. Rebuilding Macroeconomics’ Women in Economics event was an exemplary case of an open and balanced discussion of the issues at stake.


Bayer, A. and Rouse, C. E. (2016). ‘Diversity in the Economics Profession: A New Attack on an Old Problem,’ Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(4), 221-242.

Boring, A. and Zignago, S. (2017) Economics: where are the women? Available at

CSWEP (2017). Survey & Annual Report. Avaiable at

Dion, M., Sumner, J. and Mitchell, S. (2018) ‘Gendered Citation Patterns across Political Science and Social Science Methodology Fields’. Political Analysis, 26(3), 312-327

Ginther, D. K., and Kahn, S. (2014). ‘Academic Women’s Careers in the Social Sciences;. In Lanteri, A. and Vromen, J. (2014) The Economics of Economists. Cambridge University Press.

Lundberg, S. and Stearns, J. (2018) Women in Economics: Stalled Progress. Available at

Mumford, K (2014) More on the Gender Gap in Economics. RES Newsletter, no. 165 pp.20-1.

Sarson, H. (2015) ‘Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work’. Available at

Wu, A. (2017). ‘Gender Stereotyping in Academia: Evidence from Economics Job Market Rumors Forum’. Available at

Thanks to Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Gavin Hassall for helpful comments. All remaining errors are my own

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