Saturday, 17 February 2018

Justin Wolfers on why we should care about the gender gap in economics

A couple of weeks ago, Justin Wolfers wrote an interesting article in the New York Times on the gender gap. Mostly it covered the latest research, which has been widely discussed already, along with updated data suggesting that the pipeline of female economics PhDs is declining. However, the article was more interesting (to me at least) for answering the important question of why should we care about the gender gap:
New data indicates that the share of women studying the subject in America’s universities has flatlined and the pool of prospective female economists may even be shrinking.
That pattern would be disturbing in any academic field but because economics has an outsize influence on public policy, it means that many important debates are likely to be dominated by men’s voices for years to come...
The scarcity of women economists has already had important consequences.
Consider the stark differences of opinion revealed in a 2014 survey of professional economists. Fully 63 percent of women said income in the United States should be distributed more equally, compared with only 45 percent of men. Female economists were 13 percentage points less likely to say that the United States government is too large; 18 percentage points less likely to say the United States has excessive government regulation; 20 percentage points more likely to say employers should be required to provide workers with health insurance, and 16 percentage points more likely to say current policies excessively favor economic growth over environmental quality.
Perhaps most telling was the question on pay: Only 14 percent of female economists said the gender wage gap is largely explained by differences in education and voluntary occupational choices while 54 percent of male economists agreed with that notion...
Women economists tend to focus on different topics than men. While men dominate macroeconomics, women are more visible among those studying labor markets, health and education. The only majority-female economics conference I’ve ever attended was on the economics of children, a field focused on schooling, family structure and child well-being. If there were more female economists, more attention would surely be paid to these issues.
The most striking statistics of all come from a survey taken over 20 years ago, in which 98 percent of women economists agreed with the proposition that “there is a ‘good-old-boy’ network in the economics profession.” A smaller majority of men agreed. Without more women in the field, that kind of network is likely to persist. 
So, there are several good reasons why we should care about reducing the gender gap in economics, and hopefully interventions like the one I blogged about yesterday can help some of the way.

[HT: Marginal Revolution]

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