Economics has historically been viewed as a male domain – a conception that is still evident in economics departments today. According to 2020 data from the American Economic Association, women made up about 25% of assistant professors and 13% of full professors in economics departments in the âtop 20â schools.
Yet while these numbers aren’t stellar, they represent a marked improvement over the mid-1990s when less than 5% of tenured economics professors were women. This is in part thanks to academics like Dr. Joyce Jacobsen, the first female president of Hobart and William Smith colleges in Geneva, New York.
Last month, the American Economic Association (AEA) Committee on the Status of Women in the Economic Profession (CSWEP) named Jacobsen the 2021 recipient of the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award. Since 1998, the annual award has recognized someone who has raised the status of women in the economy “by example, achievement, improving our understanding of how women can advance in the economic profession or by mentoring others â.
âProfessor Jacobsen,â says CSWEP, âexcelled on all of these criteriaâ.
Hearing those words was an affirmation for Jacobsen, who said she set out to have a well-rounded career in academia – and, by most accounts, she did.
As a professor at Wesleyan University, she received the Binswanger Award for Excellence in Teaching. As a mentor and advisor, she has advised more honors theses per year than anyone in the economics department at Wesleyan, wrote a letter of recommendation. As a researcher, she is the author of several articles and manuals, including The Economics of Gender, which is now in its third edition and is considered “a standard in the field” by CSWEP. And, now, as university president, she has overcome the administrative challenges that accompany a global pandemic.
Yet even as university president, Jacobsen remains an end-to-end economist, having published Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics in 2020. Looking back, she says it only took an introduction to a economics class as an undergraduate to plug her into the field. .
âIt just spoke to me,â she said. âBecause you can think of the economy in almost any setting. It provides a framework for thinking about many of the phenomena that you see around you.
One phenomenon that intrigued her was the way in which gender influenced economic behavior, which has historically received little study in the field – likely a result of the field being predominantly male, she notes.
âPeople didn’t always think that gender was subject to theories or economics,â she says.
But, as more and more women enter the field and the feminist economy gains ground, women are increasingly studied as economic beings and the work required for the education of children and maintenance of a home is examined more carefully.
The current supply chain crisis and labor shortage have recently added to this problem. What we are experiencing now “has a huge gender aspect,” she says, noting that the disruption of childcare services and in-person schooling has forced many women to quit their paid jobs to cover work at home. residence.
âNational income accounting does not take into account unpaid work, which is one of the big problems for feminist economists: ignoring half of the work that is actually done in the world,â she says. “Maybe if there had been more women in the field, these topics would have been covered more.”
She notes that while there were a few early economic books written by women, such as Women and Economics by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – best known for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” – they were mostly read by women. But with Jacobsen’s book, The Economics of Gender, now considered âa standardâ in the field by CSWEP, there are signs that things are improving. On the one hand, Jacobsen believes that introducing students to economics through social issues helps attract women to the field.
This is a trend she noticed as a professor at Wesleyan: Women tended to disproportionately enroll in freshman economics courses that were taught as a seminar with a specific focus, like the education and inequality, as opposed to a simple “introduction to economics” course.
âI think part of that is because women find the traditional kind of analysis a little off-putting, the kind of demand that you separate yourself from your topic and try to be impartial,â she says. âSo some topics, like gender economics, help open the door to more women by saying, ‘Okay, that’s actually a really relevant way to analyze the issues that interest me. “
But, she adds, the lack of female mentors can still be a barrier. Knowing firsthand what it was like to be a student in a male dominated field, she works to mentor other women, taking a ‘once you’re my student, I still know you’ approach. . Or, as CSWEP says, âTheir mentorship doesn’t stop after a student has graduated, but it continues throughout their life. “
She cites a recent example, in which a student from 15 years ago emailed her an economics question. The fact that the student still saw her as the go-to person for this question meant a lot, she said, adding, âFollowing people’s careers has been very rewarding. “
This article originally appeared in the November 25, 2021 edition of Divers. Read it here.