Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The latest on the gender gap in economics

The latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives has a three-paper symposium on "Women in Economics". In the first paper (ungated), Shelly Lundberg (UC Santa Barbara) and Jenna Stearns (UC Davis) provide the latest data on trends in the gender composition of academic economists. The trends are not flash - if you're looking for a narrowing of the gender gap here, you'd have to be pretty selective about what you were focusing on. Specifically, Lundberg and Stearns find that:
In top 20 programs, the representation of women among full professors was only 3 percent in 1993, grew slowly to 10 percent in recent years, and then rose to nearly 14 percent in 2017. The female fraction of associate professors (which grew steadily throughout this period in the Chairman’s Group), increased from 10 percent to as high as 26 percent in 2011, but has declined in recent years to about 20 percent. Female representation among assistant professors stood at about 21 percent in 1993, reached a peak of 27.6 percent in 2008, and has since fallen back to 20 percent, meaning that no net progress has been made at the junior faculty level in top 20 departments over the past 24 years.
They also note that female economists are:
...more likely than men to study topics in labor and public economics and less likely to do dissertation research in macro and finance across the entire time period, there is virtually no evidence of differential trends.
Perhaps you could put that result down to differences in preferences, but given the perceptions that macro and finance appear to be rewarded better, the persistence of this particular difference contributes to the persistence of the gender gap.

In the second paper (ungated) in the symposium, Leah Boustan and Andrew Langan (both Princeton) look at the variation in women's success across different PhD programmes in the U.S. They show that the proportion of graduating economics PhDs going to women varies between 10 percent and 50 percent at different institutions. They also find that:
...departments with a greater share of women on their faculty also have more women in their student body: a 10 percentage point increase in faculty share is associated with a 2.5 percentage point increase in student share.
That points to a key role of mentoring and role modelling by female academic economists for students. This point was also confirmed through 31 interviews they conducted with faculty members and former students from five different PhD programmes. Finally, they found that:
...on average, men and women who graduated from the same program between 1994 and 2017 are no different in their propensity to be offered and accept a faculty position at a US PhD-granting department or to be promoted to associate professor within ten years of graduation. But conditional on taking a job in a US PhD-granting economics department, men land placements at higher-ranked departments and publish more in the top journals in the first seven years after obtaining their degree.
Those results are complemented by this 2017 working paper by Jihui Chen (Illinois State), Myongjin Kim and Qihong Liu (both University of Oklahoma). Chen et al. followed the outcomes of 578 economics PhD students who graduated in 2008, and found that:
...females in the Class of 2008 are less likely to receive tenure, relative to their male peers, by 14.1%.
Moreover, Chen et al.'s results show that the gender gap in tenure and promotion is greater for foreign-born academics working in the U.S.

Coming back to Boustan and Langan's paper, one of their conclusions was that:
Hiring women on the faculty strikes us as a concrete and low-cost approach to creating a productive learning environment that might encourage women to enroll in the graduate program.
That doesn't seem unreasonable, and is one of the strategies advocated in the third paper (ungated) of the symposium, where Kasey Buckles (Notre Dame) reviews strategies for closing the gender gap at all levels: undergraduate students, graduate students, assistant professors, associate professors, and in K-12 education. Mentoring of female economics students or junior academics seems to be a consistent theme, but it appears that there are no silver bullets here.

In fact, the most interesting parts of Buckles' review may be noting the interventions that don't work. For instance, she notes that double-blind peer review of papers (where the author/s' names are not known to the referee) does not reduce gender bias. To some extent, this is likely because double-blind is a convenient fiction, since reviewers may know (or can easily find out) who the authors of papers they review are. She also notes that:
...recent research has highlighted a policy that actually works against women on the tenure track—“gender-neutral” clock stopping policies that allow both men and women to add time to the tenure clock with the birth of a child. While the policies are often adopted in the interest of fairness, they can disadvantage women if men are able to be more productive during their extended time due to differences in child-care responsibilities or the impact of the birth itself.
One recommendation for K-12 students caught my eye though:
...the current AP Microeconomics course focuses on product markets, factor markets, and market failures, and the role of government... While these topics should remain central, the course could shift its content to include discussions of how economists apply these concepts to topics like health, education, family, crime, or development. These fields are relatively popular among women academics... it would not be surprising if they were also more appealing to women in high school.
That recommendation probably applies to introductory economics at university as well, and is something I already implement in ECONS102, which includes topics on health economics, the economics of education, poverty and inequality, and the economics of social security. I should start looking for more opportunities like this for my ECONS101 (business economics) paper as well.

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