Monday, June 23, 2008

Where are the female economists?

The RePEc blog laments how few women register for its services. I would like to take this opportunity to ask where the women are disappearing in the profession. According to the quoted CSWEP report, 34.5% of graduating female students are female, but only 8.1% of full professors are women. There is considerable leakage.

These numbers need some qualifications, though. First, they pertain to PhD granting institutions in the US. Thus, the missing women may have moved to non-PhD granting universities along their careers, but they are visibly doing this more than men. The figures for liberal arts colleges are slightly better, with 20.5%. Second, these numbers do not reflect a steady state, as full professors are from a generation where women were less numerous in graduate programs.

But there is still no doubt that the ranks of women are thinning faster than for men throughout careers. Why? I doubt expectations are higher for women, but it is true that many have ambitions more tilted towards family than men. For example, a female graduate student once volunteered to me that her career goal was to teach for a few years, then take care of her family. You would not hear that from a male student.

There may also be some truth to the Larry Summers conjecture: men and women have the same mean ability, but the variance is larger for men. Thus there is a larger proportion of them as you move to the top (or the bottom). This would certainly be consistent with the data, but this does not necessarily prove the conjecture.

Finally, many departments are under a lot of pressure to hire women. The average quality of a female hire has to be lower under such circumstances, and it should not surprise fewer reach tenure and promotion.

9 comments:

Gabriel said...

There are also opportunities for private employment out there... financial institutions and such.

There's a strong association between getting a PhD and staying in academia, but maybe less so for women.

Some of the non-top-tier programs pride themselves in placing their graduates in lucrative, private sector jobs.

Not a feminist said...

I am witnessed a feminist economist systemically objecting to any female hire who would use a model in her work, because this is giving in to the male paradigm. Such attitudes do not help.

VIlfredo said...

Welcome back, gabriel.

I would argue that academia is more forgiving than the private sector for women who want ot make a career while having a family. There is more flexibility for time allocation, and it is easier to do work at home. I find academia should be more attratice for women, relative to private employment.

However, it is true that making a career in general is more difficult for women how have to juggle with a family to raise. That may be the problem, rather than academia.

Anonymous said...

I like the Summers conjecture a lot. I would even argue that the mean ability of women is higher in an economy where knowledge trumps force (the brain vs. brawn argument), but the variance among men is higher. Then, if you look at the top decile, you find a majority of men.

Vilfredo said...

Looking at the RePEc rankings, there is not a single woman among the top 100. That may be due to the fact that few of them register, relative to men. But then, look at the top 100 in the Coupé ranking: one by publications (Karen Lewis) and one by citations (Katarina Juselius). This is pathetic.

T-Bone said...

The Economist cites a study that shows that in countries with the most gender equality, girls tend to be about equal to men in math ability, but better than men in reading. The suggestion is that even though girls are equal in math, they have a comparative advantage in reading which may cause them to gravitate towards areas such as law causing them to be underrepresented in math-heavy professions.

http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11449804

Independent Accountant said...

Economic Logician:
Take a look at La Griffe du Lion. You might learn something there.

Dr. Steven J. Balassi said...

One of reasons women are not attracted to the tenure track economics field is the current culture. The current culture is very male dominated and women are not happy in it. This reputation spreads around and leads to fewer candidates. The privates sector has done a much better job creating a culture of inclusion. This may be due, in part, to the tenure process. It’s much harder to change a tenured Professor’s ways, you can just fire someone in the corporate world.

Anonymous said...

Ah, "La Griffe du Lion" -- VDARE's favorite guy for putting a pseudoscientific, non-peer-reviewed gloss on white-male-supremist attitudes.

Need I add that he's been debunked to hell and back?