Monday, 4 December 2017

The toxic environment for women in econjobrumors.com

Back in August, Justin Wolfers argued yes in the New York Times:
A pathbreaking new study of online conversations among economists describes and quantifies a workplace culture that appears to amount to outright hostility toward women in parts of the economics profession.
Alice H. Wu, who will start her doctoral studies at Harvard next year, completed the research in an award-winning senior thesis at the University of California, Berkeley. Her paper has been making the rounds among leading economists this summer, and prompting urgent conversations...
Ms. Wu mined more than a million posts from an anonymous online message board frequented by many economists. The site, commonly known as econjobrumors.com (its full name is Economics Job Market Rumors), began as a place for economists to exchange gossip about who is hiring and being hired in the profession. Over time, it evolved into a virtual water cooler frequented by economics faculty members, graduate students and others...
Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”
She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.
The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme.
I finally read the paper (ungated) this week (by Alice Wu and David Card), and it is every bit as disturbing as advertised. For instance here's Table 1, which shows the ten words most associated with 'female' posts (those most likely to be about a woman because they contain a preponderance of terms like "her" and "she"), and 'male' posts:


That's only the beginning though. As Wolfers notes, Wu and Card then goes on to show that there are differences in the way that females and males are discussed on the forum. For example:
...on average there are 4.07 academic or job related words in each post associated with male, but 1.76 less (a significant 43.2% decrease) when it is asscoiated (sic) with female. In terms of probability, 70.6% of the "male" posts include at least one academic/work term, while 57.4% of "female" posts do.
And:
...a "female" post on average include 1.341 terms related to personal info or physical attributes, almost three times of what occurs in an average "male" post.
In other words, posts related to females are much more likely to focus on physical appearance or personal characteristics, while posts related to males are much more likely to maintain an academic focus. When they look at threads rather than posts, they find similar findings, but also that a thread becomes more personal following a 'female' post.

Finally, Wu and Card goes on to show that top female economists receive more attention on the forum than male economists. However, based on their other results it almost goes without saying that this attention is not as focused on their academic output.

Of course, it is difficult to argue that Econjobrumors is representative of the profession as a whole, or even of young economists. I lasted all of a day or two on the site when I was a PhD student before I saw it as generally a waste of time. Hopefully, young female economists are giving it a wide berth too, because it appears it doesn't paint the best picture of the economics profession. However, Wolfers' article does end on a positive note about Wu:
She is also tenacious, and when I asked Ms. Wu whether the sexism she documented had led her to reconsider pursuing a career in economics, she said that it had not. “You see those bad things happen and you want to prove yourself,” she said.
Indeed, she told me that her research suggests “that more women should be in this field changing the landscape.”
I agree.

[HT]: Marginal Revolution, back in August.

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