Hallie Jo Gist
The gender disparity in the Economics discipline at UC Berkeley is no secret. For the undergraduates, a glance around the classroom is enough evidence of an imbalance. As a part of the nation-wide Undergraduate Women in Economics (UWE) Challenge, we attempted to quantify this apparent disparity.
The UWE challenge was inspired by Professor Claudia Goldin’s research on undergraduate women in Economics at the hypothetical "Adams College," a U.S. liberal arts college. Goldin found that women are less likely than men to enter and continue in the Economics discipline. As one of 20 randomly selected universities, UC Berkeley receives funding for research on the factors that affect the gender distribution of undergraduates in Economics. The data collection described below is a first step in this research.
Our main statistic of interest is what we call the "Goldin ratio." The Goldin ratio is the male-to-female ratio of degrees earned in a given undergraduate major, relative to the male-to-female ratio in the full undergraduate population at UC Berkeley. For example, if there is a 50-50 distribution of males and females among all undergraduates, a Goldin ratio of 2 for the Economics major implies that there are twice as many males as there are females earning an Economics BA. This ratio was calculated from information on degrees earned made available through CalAnswers. For raw numbers, please see the chart at the end of this blog.
At UC Berkeley, students interested in economics choose between three undergraduate majors - Economics (Econ), Environmental Economics and Policy (EEP), and Political Economy (Poli Econ). The Economics major is the largest undergraduate major at UC Berkeley, with an average of 470 graduating students every year over the past ten years. The Economics major is housed in the Department of Economics within the College of Letters and Sciences. The EEP major is housed in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics within the College of Natural Resources. The College of Natural Resources describes the EEP major as the study of "economics and political institutions that affect the development and management of natural resources and the environment." The Political Economy major studies "the relationship between politics and economics in modern societies, focusing on problems of both domestic and international policy." It is one of several majors in the International & Area Studies Academic Program within the College of Letters and Sciences. Finally, UC Berkeley also offers an undergraduate Business major housed within the Haas School of Business.
While these majors diverge in the electives offered to upper year students, there is a great deal of overlap in the prerequisites and core requirements for all four degrees. The Business major has similar prerequisites to the economics majors, but a more selective admissions process. We calculated the Goldin ratio in all four majors for the last 10 years.
Figure 1 shows the Goldin ratio for each graduating class, 2007 to 2016, in the Economics (Econ), Environmental Economics and Policy (EEP), Political Economy (Poli Econ) majors, and Business (Bus.) majors. As you can see, the annual Goldin ratios tend to be highest for students in the Economics major. This indicates that the Economics major is disproportionately male relative to the university. Moreover, this disparity is greater in the Economics major than in the other three majors. The Goldin ratios are also greater than 1 for the Business major, which tells us that the Business major is also disproportionately male relative to the university. The Goldin ratios are closer to 1 for the EEP and Poli Econ majors, indicating a more equal gender balance.
Examination of the Goldin ratio for transfer students reveals that the trend is not common to students of all educational backgrounds. Figures 2 and 3 show the Goldin ratio for students in all four majors (Econ, EEP, Poli Econ, and Bus.) who were admitted as transfer students and as new freshmen. Among students who were admitted as transfer students, the Goldin ratio tends to be greater than 1, indicating a gender disparity. Furthermore, the Goldin ratio for the past ten years has shown an overall increase, indicating that this disparity is growing. On the other hand, the overall Goldin ratio for students admitted as new freshmen has decreased over the past ten years and is approaching 1, at which point the gender distribution among economics students will be equal to that of all UC Berkeley undergraduates. This tells us that while the gender disparity in the economics majors is improving for four-year students, gender inequality is growing for transfer students.
While the preceding graphs give us a good sense of the big picture, they disguise the fact that the gender disparity in Economics at UC Berkeley varies significantly by racial group.
This is especially true in the Economics department. Figure 4 reports the Goldin ratio values computed using all UC Berkeley students graduating in the periods 2007-2011 and 2012-2016. The Goldin ratios are highest for students identifying as underrepresented minority (UM) - Black, Latinx, and Native American undergraduates. Meanwhile, with averages close to 1, the gender balance among students of Asian and Pacific Islander (PI) descent, and International students is practically at parity.
Similarly, the Goldin ratios for each five-year period are particularly high for students identifying as UM in the Business major. For students identifying as Asian and PI, the Goldin ratios are about 1, indicating a gender balance reflecting that among all Asian and PI undergraduates. For International students, the average Goldin ratios are less than 1, which implies that International women are actually over-represented in the Business major relative to the undergraduate population. This trend is true for EEP students as well, though the difference between racial groups along the lines of race is less pronounced. For Political Economy students, the five-year average Goldin ratios are about 1, indicating a much more equal gender balance across racial groups.
The difference in gender balance across racial groups prompted us to calculate a new ratio, which we call the "race ratio." The race ratio is analogous to the Goldin ratio; we look at the ratio of students of a particular racial group to students of all other racial groups. For example, if 18% of UC Berkeley’s undergraduates are of underrepresented minority (UM) racial groups, then a race ratio of 2 for UM students in the Economics major implies that only 9% of Economics BA recipients are UM students. We calculated this ratio for each of the three majors within the economics and business disciplines at UC Berkeley.
Figures 8-11 show the 2007-2016 annual race ratios for Asian/PI, white, underrepresented minority (UM), and international degree recipients in the Economics, EEP, Political Economy, and Business majors. For Economics students, there is a pronounced difference in race ratios between the four racial groups. The annual race ratios for UM students are much greater than 1 and tend to be higher than those for students of other racial groups. That is, UM students are severely underrepresented in the Economics major relative to the population of undergraduates, and this racial imbalance exists disproportionately for UM students. Furthermore, with an upward sloping trend, the graph suggests that this disparity is growing. At the other end of the spectrum, we can see that international and Asian/PI students are over-represented in the Economics major, with race ratios less than 1.
We see a similar distribution of race ratios in the Business major. However, for UM students in the Business major, the race ratios trend downward. This indicates that while UM students are underrepresented in the Business major, this inequality is becoming less pronounced. The difference in race ratio across racial groups is less dramatic for the EEP major, although the disparity is still there. Again, UM students in particular are underrepresented in the EEP major relative to the university. Within the Political Economy major, the distribution of students according to racial group is much closer to that of the university. For all four racial groups, the race ratios tend to be closer to 1 than among the other majors.
The race ratio tells us nothing about the distribution of students according to gender; neither does the Goldin ratio tell us anything about the distribution of students along the lines of race. That is, just looking at the proportions of race or gender groups blurs the inequality faced by underrepresented minority women.
We struggle to address this issue. One problem is the small number of UM women graduating with degrees in the economics discipline; this renders it difficult to make meaningful statements about annual trends in degrees earned by UM women. An average of only 9 UM women have graduated with a BA in Economics each year for the past 10 years. This fact alone is alarming.
As a starting point, we created what we’ve called an "intersectional ratio." The intersectional ratio is analogous to the Goldin ratio; it is the ratio of UM women vs. all other students, divided by this ratio in the full population of Cal undergraduates. Aggregating over two 5-year periods, we created intersectional ratios—one for the period 2007 to 2011 and another for the period 2012 to 2016. These ratios for the Economics major are summarized in Figure 12.
As you can see, the intersectional ratio is extremely high for UM women in the Economics major. This suggests that UM (Black, Latinx, and Native American) women are even more underrepresented than suggested by the race ratios or Goldin ratios.
It is clear that the economics and business disciplines at UC Berkeley suffer from gender and racial disparities. In this post, we hope to shine a light on these issues. We are not sure how or why these inequalities arise - this is a topic for future research. One possibility is that women, especially UM women, are less confident in their quantitative reasoning skills. Research suggests that women in mathematics classes experience stereotype threat, which limits their performance. To be clear, we do not mean to imply that women at UC Berkeley lack quantitative proficiency. Rather, we want to suggest that the UC Berkeley could do more to support women pursuing quantitatively rigorous degrees, and that this might promote higher numbers of women in economics and business.
However, the difference in gender and race distributions among the four majors may suggest another channel, especially when we consider that the four degrees require similar lower-division coursework. In particular, it may be that some students perceive that the Economics and Business majors do not address issues of social justice, while Political Economy and EEP do. In my own experience as an Economics student, I have often felt that the undergraduate Economics program at UC Berkeley can be used to answer questions related to social justice. Perhaps our efforts to increase the numbers of UM women in these degree programs should involve making information about the content and freedom within these majors more accessible.
For those of us involved in the UWE project at UC Berkeley, these data are just a starting point. We recognize that any attempt to promote a more equal distribution along the lines of race and gender in the economics and business departments will not be successful if we do not take an intersectional approach. Neither the Goldin ratio nor the race ratio captures the particularity of the experience of underrepresented minority women within the economics discipline. We hope that the data presented above can serve as a foundation in our effort to make the economics discipline a more equitable environment for people of all genders and races, and in particular to bring attention to the severe underrepresentation of minority women in Economics.
The research described above was conducted under the direction of Professor Martha Olney in the Economics Department at UC Berkeley. The ongoing project is funded by the nation-wide UWE Challenge.
Hallie Jo Gist is a fourth-year undergraduate Economics student at UC Berkeley. She is part of a team of undergraduates involved in the UWE project at UC Berkeley. Hallie Jo is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area.