[Marxism] Wielding Data, Women Force a Reckoning Over Bias in the Economics Field
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Thu Jan 11 07:27:23 MST 2018
NY Times, Jan. 11 2018
Wielding Data, Women Force a Reckoning Over Bias in the Economics Field
By JIM TANKERSLEY and NOAM SCHEIBER
PHILADELPHIA — It is not difficult to find an all-male panel at the
annual January mega-gathering of American economists. They are as common
as PowerPoint presentations and pie charts. One such panel this year met
to sleepily critique President Trump’s economic policies, but it was
overshadowed by another panel, two ballrooms away, that jolted a
profession that prides itself on cool rationality.
That panel on Friday was stocked with women, each of whom presented new
research that revealed a systemic bias in economics and presaged a move
by the field’s leaders to promise to address some of those issues.
Paper after paper presented at the American Economic Association panel
showed a pattern of gender discrimination, beginning with barriers women
face in choosing to study economics and extending through the life cycle
of their careers, including securing job opportunities, writing research
papers, gaining access to top publications and earning proper credit for
Economics departments have gradually increased their share of female
faculty members over the past 20 years. But only one in five
tenure-track economics professors is a woman, according to the American
Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics
In many parts of the profession, gender progress stagnated over the last
decade. About one in three new economics doctoral students was a woman
in 2016, and fewer than one in three assistant professors were women. In
both of those cases, the share of women was essentially unchanged from 2006.
A Shrinking Pipeline of Women in Economics Departments
A 2016 survey of 126 economics departments with doctoral programs found
that while the female share of doctoral students and faculty has
increased significantly since the 1970s, the representation of women
drops at each step on the track to full, tenured professor.
The focus on gender bias in economics began simmering in August, when
Alice Wu, an economist from the University of California, Berkeley,
detailed in a research paper how the website Economics Job Market
Rumors, a much-read, anonymous job-rumor forum and message board for
economists, had become a hotbed of harassment, with female economists
frequently described in often sexual and crude terms.
The bias creeps into the most popular introductory economics textbooks,
which refer to men four times as often as they do women. Ninety percent
of the economists cited in those textbooks are men, Betsey Stevenson, a
University of Michigan economist, told the panel on gender issues in
economics, based on a paper she is about to complete. When women are
mentioned in textbook examples, they are more likely to be shopping or
cleaning than running a company or making public policy.
Missing From Economics Textbooks: Women
An analysis presented at a January gathering of economists found that
men make up the vast majority of people mentioned in economics
textbooks, even dominating references to business leaders and policy makers.
The reckoning in economics comes amid a larger national examination of
bias and abuse toward women in the work force, across industries
including entertainment, manufacturing and journalism. But the existence
of bias in the field of economics is rattling a profession that, at its
core, functions through objective interpretation and extrapolation of
data, statistics and evidence.
Leaders of the American Economic Association announced on Friday night
that they would begin to address bias concerns more seriously, by
setting up an alternative to the online jobs site and drafting a code of
conduct for economists. But many economists said that those steps were
late, and that they left much work to be done to ensure fairness for
women in the field, where the rate of entry for women lags that of math,
engineering and other hard sciences.
“The time had come for the organization to make a more proactive
statement,” said Peter L. Rousseau, the chairman of the economics
department at Vanderbilt University and the association’s
secretary-treasurer. He cast the decision as responding to evidence in a
way that was natural for the profession. “Economists, I think, are just
very objective in their view of the world,” he said.
In interviews during and after the conference, prominent women in
economics described how their profession throws barriers in their
professional paths, and they criticized the male-dominated leadership in
the field for moving slowly to tear those barriers down.
“I don’t think it’s because we don’t know what is implicit bias. We
know,” said Rhonda Sharpe, the president of the National Economics
Association, which was founded to promote the professional development
of minorities in the field. “It’s whether we stand up and call it out,
and usually we don’t.”
The annual conference brings together several economics groups, the
largest among them the American Economics Association. Before this
year’s conference, two economists — Heidi Hartmann, the president of the
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and Michael Reich, a labor
economist at Berkeley — circulated a petition calling on the
association’s leaders to establish their own job market website where
comments would be moderated and sexist postings blocked. The petition
was eventually signed by more than 1,000 economists, and, on Friday, the
association agreed to start its own job site.
“I see this as a big deal,” Abigail Wozniak, an economist at Notre Dame
who was active in advocating a new job market site, said by email. “I
think the reaction of the A.E.A. was driven in part by a recognition
that economics can become more inclusive on a number of dimensions.”
Janet Currie, chairwoman of Princeton’s economics department, and
Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, pointed to a recent study that
found that women get significantly less credit than men when they
co-write papers with them, as reflected in the way the paper affects
their chances of receiving tenure.
When the co-author is a man, “people don’t say anything about it, it’s
just normal,” Ms. Currie said. “When it’s a woman, it’s: ‘Oh, everything
she wrote is with co-authors. How do we know she’s any good?’”
She said the behavior, detailed in a paper by Heather Sarsons of
Harvard, was related to a more widespread phenomenon. “There are lots of
examples of when a woman says something, no one pays attention,” Ms.
Currie said. “A man says the same thing, everyone says it’s great. It
happens a lot.”
Sarah A. Jacobson, an environmental economist at Williams College,
recounted an experience during graduate school that she said was
indicative: A well-respected female economist delivering a talk at her
department was repeatedly interrupted by male economists when trying to
answer questions from the audience.
“In the middle of the seminar, a male economist I respect turned around
— they’re in the audience — and they were explaining the answer for her,
on her behalf,” Ms. Jacobson said.
“You see it all the time,” she added. “You occasionally see it if a male
is presenting. You see it pretty often if a woman is presenting.”
Kate Bahn, an economist at the Center for American Progress, said that
when she was in graduate school, she was told she was not invited to a
regular poker game with her male cohorts, because it included
“locker-room talk.” She also noticed that her specialties, labor and
gender economics, were viewed as more associated with women, and thus
“What there really needs to be is a broader cultural change,” she said.
Ms. Hengel, the University of Liverpool economist, used readability
tests to conclude that papers written by female economists are on
average up to 6 percent better-written than those of men, and that those
by women languish in peer review a half-year longer than those of men.
She became interested in the topic as a graduate student, she said, when
watching a male friend teach a course and noticing the difference in how
students reacted to him compared with how they reacted to her.
“When you’re teaching something, when you really nail an explanation,
the front row just lights up,” she said. But she watched her friend’s
class light up, “even though he wasn’t nailing it.”
Ms. Sharpe, of the N.E.A., said the bias against African-American women,
who continue to make up a tiny slice of the economics profession, was
especially pronounced. Ms. Sharpe’s data show that only 52 black women
earned economics doctorates between 2006 and 2015, a slight increase
from the 46 who earned them in the previous decade.
“All of this conversation about misogyny with women is not having a
conversation about black women,” she said. “I think of us as the
incredible invisible woman.”
Ms. Stevenson’s analysis of the seven leading introductory economics
textbooks found that female economists were all but invisible. More than
90 percent of real-world business leaders mentioned in the books were
men. Three in five fictional characters whom the authors invented to
illustrate a concept were men.
Only 6 percent of the policymakers referred to in the textbooks were
women. One woman accounted for more than half of those references: Janet
L. Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, who is about to be
replaced by a man.
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