Gender inequality in professional economics is extreme and apparently not improving. Women got 34 percent of economics PhDs in 2016, a number that has not improved in the last decade, according to Shelly Lundberg, last-year’s chair of the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession; 14 percent of economics full professors in PhD-granting institutions are women.
Here’s the percent female getting PhDs across disciplines:
Feminists in the profession are working on the situation, on both the questions of representation and workplace harassment. The New York Times reported on this from the American Economic Association earlier this month, and wrote:
One of the panelists, Susan Athey, a Stanford economist, said she had bought “khakis and loafers” to fit in with the men in the lunchroom of her first economics department, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She did so even though the department was the “most supportive environment” she has encountered in her career.
“I spent all my time hoping that no one would remember I was female,” said Ms. Athey, a past winner of a prestigious award for young economists. “I didn’t want to remind people that I’m a sexual being.”
Male economist and Naval Postgraduate School professor David Henderson was visibly distressed upon reading this — for himself. He blogged:
Consider, then, the questions that a male colleague of Professor Athey might ask himself about how best to deal with her. Let’s say she’s wearing a dress or even a nice pant suit. Let’s say the male colleague notices and thinks it looks nice. Should he say it looks nice? Does that show he recognizes she’s a sexual being? Does she like that? And remember that given her status in the profession, if this male colleague doesn’t have tenure yet, he needs to think about the implications for his tenure of any direction he chooses.
If I were her colleague, I would be genuinely confused about how to deal with Professor Athey around issues of clothing. By the way, I know what I would do because this is what I tend to do. I would go directly to her, show the quotes, and say, “How do you want me to treat you? What do you want me to say I notice?” I don’t know her and so I don’t know how she would receive that.
Now take some guys who aren’t like me in this respect, which is probably most guys. They probably won’t dare ask what I asked because they could fear that direct questions are risky. Maybe they would fear too much, but the stakes are big.
These are serious workplace challenges nowadays.
Henderson is a conservative think-tank presence as well, with an apparently popular blog, and is apparently taken seriously by some people — and he’s only 68. And yet he writes as if he’s literally never had a female colleague, or one that he took seriously as a regular person, in decades. How could you be that dumb, basically? How would he “deal with” any female colleague “around issues of clothing”? It’s 2019, roughly.
Wondering about this, I looked at his blog, and noticed that he often uses people’s names in the titles, like, “Friedman and Reynolds on Saez and Zucman.” So I copied the titles of his most recent 1000 posts from this page (going back only to 2015), selected the 460 that had someone’s name in the title — usually but not always economists (there are 32 Trumps and 8 Obamas) — and counted them up by gender. I may have miscounted, because it’s hard to stay alert when you’re counting needles in haystacks, but this is pretty close: 94.1% of the people he named in his titles were men. (Here’s the file.) They’re almost all about economics issues, though with the occasional movie review or personal comment.
Of course some people are going to be terrible. But it says something about the profession that someone can be a public person in it with his name over a list like this.
And it’s not just that he has a very narrow view. He writes about a lot of different things, reviews lots of books, writes profiles of important economists, and seems to read a lot. Here are the words in his titles that mention only men (n=379):
And here are those mentioning only women (n=18):
(The three women who were wrong were Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Wynne, and Veronique de Rugy.)