Friday, 20 April 2018

Why we should care about the gender gap in economics

In a post I wrote last year, I was challenged a little in the comments as to why I thought the gender gap in economics needed to be narrowed. My (weak) response was that we lose something by being out of balance. What we lose of course is diversity of opinion, to the extent that that women and men (or more specifically, male and female economics) have different views about economic theory and/or policy, and/or different interpretations of the research evidence.

I just finished reading a 2014 article by Ann Mari May, Mary McGarvey (both University of Nebraska - Lincoln), and Robert Whaples (Wake Forest University), published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy (ungated version here). In the article, the authors report on a survey of 143 randomly selected members of the American Economic Association, the largest such association in the world. They essentially asked each survey participant about the extent to which they agreed with a number of statements, which were grouped into five categories:
The first group of questions relate to core principles in economics and economic methodology. The second through fourth groups examine views on market solutions and government intervention, government spending, taxing, and redistribution, and the environment. The fifth group of questions asks specifically about equal opportunity in society and gender equality in the economics profession.
Their findings demonstrate just how much diversity of opinion there is between male and female economists:
Male and female members of the AEA with doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions appear to agree on core precepts and economic methodology, whereas female economists tend to favor government-backed redistribution policies more than males, view gender inequality as a problem in the U.S. labor market and economics profession more than males, and favor government intervention over market solutions more than their male counterparts... The mean views of women economists on government spending, taxing, and redistribution and on gender inequality are both approximately one standard deviation away from the mean opinion of male economists. Although the divergence in magnitudes of the GLS and OLS estimated gender difference in opinion on U.S. environmental policies is not large, the GLS estimate is statistically significant. The mean response of female economists is about .45 standard deviations greater than the mean male response, indicating that women tend to favor an increase in U.S. environmental protection more than men...
The results of our survey of male and female economists show that the area of largest disagreement between men and women lies in views on equal opportunity. These differences reveal themselves not only in views of gender equality in the economics profession, but in society in general. Large disparities in average responses between male and female economists emerge in response to the statement, “Job opportunities for men and women in the United States are currently approximately equal.” The estimation results show the mean response of female economists is one point (a full standard deviation) lower than that of male economists after controlling for degree vintage and employment type. 
May et al. even tell you why their results are important:
First, these results suggest that it is crucial to include both women and men economists at the table when forming policy to ensure that a variety of professional perspectives are included in the discussion. If demographic differences, such as sex, shape our views of policy-related questions, it may be important that women be included on boards and in policy-making circles at all levels of decision making...
Second, the gender gap in economists’ views may provide a possible explanation why women are underrepresented in economics as faculty in the leading research institutions. If women hold views that shape their perspectives on research issues and inform their thinking on policy conclusions that are at odds with the perspectives of their male counterparts in areas that are at the heart of a discipline, this may affect hiring and promotion decisions in ways that disadvantage women...
Finally, differences in views on economic policy between similarly trained men and women may also influence classroom materials and discussion and ultimately the worldview of students in these classes.
There's a lot more detail in the paper, including some fascinating differences in response to the individual questions. I encourage you all to read it.

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