It is publicly known, though perhaps frequently underestimated, that academic economics disproportionately employs male and Caucasian economists. In their Fall 2016 Journal of Economic Perspectives paper, Amanda Bayer and Cecilia Elena Rouse construct a comprehensive argument for the need to address the persistent underrepresentation of women, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Native Americans in the economics profession. In the absence of a large and established literature on implicit biases and systemic discrimination in economics specifically, Bayer and Rouse leverage evidence of biases across a range of academic fields and career paths. The authors argue that economics may be severely behind peer fields in addressing biases and that, ultimately, more research and investment into diversity in economics is essential to the future of the field.
Bayer and Rouse present the statistic that in 2016, only 23.5 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty in economics are women, with only 15 percent of full-professorships allocated to women. The authors note that "minority academic economists are even rarer" with only 6.3 percent of tenured and tenure-track economists identifying as African American or Hispanic, compared to about 30 percent of the overall US population.
Diversity in economics shows little improvement over time and has even gotten worse relative to other academic fields. These trends are visible in the chart below depicting the number of bachelor and doctorate degrees awarded to women and minority students over the past 20 years, presented originally by Bayer and Rouse. Additionally, hiring disparities are further exacerbated by striking gender salary gaps and publishing gaps. The authors cite that "female full professor salaries in economics as a proportion of male salaries dropped from 95 percent in 1995 to less than 75 percent in 2010," (Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, and Williams 2014). Further, female authorships only make up 13.7 percent of all economic publications since 1990. Comparing this statistic to an overall average of 27.2 percent across 21 academic disciplines shows clear evidence of underrepresentation in economics (West, Jacquet, King, Correll, and Bergstrom 2013). These facts present the state of the field as not only disparate in absolute but as having regressed over time and relative to peer academic fields.
Bayer and Rouse acknowledge that many academics participate in efforts to address diversity, and that the persistence of the issue is not for lack of intentional effort. However, studies of academia show that implicit biases and institutional discrimination form barriers to women and underrepresented minorities in many academic fields and at all stages of the academic pipeline. In their 2015 study, Milkman, Akinola, and Chugh measure that after receiving an email from fictional prospective doctoral students asking for a ten-minute meeting about research opportunities, social science faculty (which included economists) responded to 75 percent of Caucasian males' emails and only 68 percent of emails from women or minority students. Business school faculty responded to 87 percent of emails from Caucasian males and only 62 percent of emails from women or minorities. Similar studies reveal bias in the hiring of academic researchers in the sciences (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012), and in the language used in recommendation letters for academics in Psychology (Trix and Psenka 2003). Though these studies are not specific to economics, they suggest evidence of bias in academia and present opportunities for research into how economics may suffer from similar discriminatory practices.
Perhaps the strongest contribution of Bayer and Rouse's article is the in-depth evaluation of supply- and demand-side barriers to diversity in economics specifically. In addition to reviewing research on other academic fields, the authors discuss unique challenges faced by economics and debunk popular understandings of these disparities. For example, math preparation and aptitude cannot explain the gender gap in economics (Emerson, McGoldrick, and Mumford 2012). Additionally, the authors cite that women are more responsive than men to their grades in economics relative to their grades in other courses. This behavior has not been observed in other quantitative disciplines, demanding the questions of whether there are characteristics specific to economics that inhibit female students from feeling competent in the coursework (Rask and Tiefenthaler 2008). Bayer and Rouse assert that if economics alone faces this behavioral pattern, then it may be a result of advising practices or culture. Finally, a recent working paper by Heather Sarsons focuses on tenure evaluations in economics and reveals that women receive a penalty for co-authoring relative to their male peers.
Finally, Bayer and Rouse defend the importance of diversity in economics as not only an extension of equal opportunity but a means for better and more robust research production. The authors cite studies addressing the scope, quality and efficiency of producing ideas with a diverse group of academics. One key study showed that "male and female economists have different views about economic outcomes and policies, even after controlling for vintage of PhD and type of employment" (May, McGarvey and Whaples 2014). This study demonstrates the need to evaluate how the demographic composition of economists affects policy and economic outcomes for the whole of society. Bayer and Rouse call for a continuation of this work and laud the current steps being taken by the discipline already.
Author: Emily Eisner