IMF Research Perspectives Spring-Summer 2020


IMF Research Perspectives Spring-Summer 2020

In all stages of academia, from the first days as a PhD student to full professor, women in economics have been and remain a minority. Perhaps even more striking, the higher the rank, the lower the representation of women-a phenomenon that appears to be unique to the economics profession. We spoke with Şebnem Kalemli-Özcan, assistant director of the Research Department at the IMF, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, College Park, and associate chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, to find out why and learn what can be done about it.

Let’s Start with Some Data, as Economists Often Do…

Women are underrepresented in all stages of economics academia. The fraction of baccalaureate women who majored in economics is in decline. Women made up less than 40 percent of students entering economics PhD programs, while they received just a third of the PhD degrees granted by US institutions in 2018. The numbers for minority women are even worse: out of 148 American women who received their PhDs in economics from a US institution in 2018, only seven are Black and four Hispanic. Furthermore, fewer than one in five full professors in economics departments are women.

Is The United States an Outlier?

Lack of data makes comprehensive comparisons difficult, but the United States looks worse than Europe both in the women’s share of entry-level and full professors. That is not to say that women in Europe are doing great in climbing the ladder: women constitute 40 percent of entry-level professors but only 24 percent of full professors in European economics departments.

As you Know, the IMF has Set Ambitious Goals to Increase Women’s Representation on its Staff. What do These Statistics Mean for Achieving Such Goals?

It is important to note that, compared to the field of microeconomics, women are especially under-represented in finance, macro, and international economics-three main fields in the IMF’s hiring of PhD economists.

The underrepresentation matters because the diversity of opinion enriches the profession. For example, men and women have different views on the inclusiveness of the economy. More than 70 percent of female economists agree or strongly agree with the statement that “the distribution of income in the United States should be made more equal,” compared to only 40 percent of male economists.

Diverse teams also conduct more infuential research: a study of 2.5 million scientific papers written by US-based researchers from 1985 to 2008 found that papers with author teams of different ethnicities and in different locations were published in higher-impact journals and cited more often.

Now Comes the Difficult Question: Why are .Women Underrepresented, Especially at Higher Ranks?

First and foremost, basic economic principles may create a misperception: markets are efficient, so differences across groups must result from differences in preferences or abilities. Referee reports prepared by white male economists on gender research include statements such as “women are less famous because they have to take time of to take care of kids and there are fundamental differences in the way males and females network,” “based on my observations of my wife and her friends, women seem to prefer to stay home,” “women do not like math,” and “women prefer less math-intensive jobs because they are more social.” These stereotypes and biases are quite far from the truth but have real consequences. In undergraduate education, the share of women majoring in math increased, while that in economics decreased. Women who major in math prefer other STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields to economics.

There is also increasing evidence of discrimination against women in economics. Extensive work has shown that women get less credit for coauthored work, are evaluated more harshly by students, and do more volunteer and service work. There is, perhaps more disturbingly, evidence that women face a more hostile audience during their presentations at seminars and such an aggressive professional environment deters women from an early stage in their career. Last but not least, there is an important childbirth penalty that lasts a long time, with 20 percent lower lifetime earnings and 26 percent lower probability of advancing in one’s career.

Economists are Often Known for Advocating Evidence-Based Decision-Making and Policies. What is the Profession Doing with this Evidence? What Actions are Being Taken?

The American Economic Association (AEA) has undertaken several initiatives, starting with a climate survey; raising awareness on the issue is the first step. Men are satisfed more than women with the existing climate in the economics profession.

AEA has also set up a task force on best practices to have a diverse and inclusive profession focusing on five areas: conducting research; organizing conferences, seminars, and visitor programs; serving as colleagues; working with students; and leading departments and workplaces. The main message here is that we all have a part in this, need to be aware and think about inclusivity all the time.

Any Advice for Newcomers or Those Considering A Career in Economics?

We are not going to solve these problems overnight, but there are a lot of things you can do, individually and collectively, that will improve the situation. You might say or do things that hurt or ofend other people. The goal is to build relationships with others where you can discuss openly and learn from others. Diversity and inclusion are the responsibility of everyone.

My suggestion for young economists is do not give up, keep up the good work, and never ever lose your integrity. Be an effective bystander, meaning call it out when you see it. Even if you cannot intervene directly due to shyness and power imbalances, find someone to talk to. We can all be an ally, when everyone is one.

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Source: AEA climate survey.