The field of economics has a “dirty secret” that discourages women in academia: it’s a “testosterone-fueled bear pit.”
That’s according to one of the UK’s most influential economic policy makers, David Miles. And that’s one of the main reasons the field has been male-dominated, said Miles, head of macroeconomic forecasting at the country’s budget watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Miles made the comments to lawmakers in December, and his observation is backed up by a study of the data. In a 2020 survey by the Royal Economic Society, more than 50% of respondents said they found the climate harsh. Less than half found it respectful and a third of women said they had experienced inappropriate sexual behavior, according to the survey of 181 academic economists.
It’s not just a matter of culture. Women are vastly underrepresented in the field. And for those who hold on, they face the biggest gender pay gap among teachers of any subject at UK universities.
“If the economy is toxic on the inside, as we bring more women into it, they’ll be turned off, walk out and pull out,” said Victoria Bateman, an economist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of an RES report on women in the field. .
The problem is not limited to the UK An article by the National Bureau of Economic Research has revealed that women academics in the United States are being asked more condescending questions in seminars. In 2018, Harvard economist Alice Wu used algorithms to show that there were more references to women’s appearance in online comments on an economics job board than men. And in 2020, former Federal Reserve economist Claudia Sahm argued that there is a macho culture of debate in economics.
Leaving women economists out of the academic ranks has an impact beyond mere composition of the field. It can guide the assumptions underlying economic thinking and what to measure. Bateman cited the example of gross domestic product: “It excludes women’s unpaid work, and that means transportation becomes part of the infrastructure investment, but not childcare.”
For Britain’s Royal Economic Society, the problem is so acute that it has launched a four-year strategy to promote economics to women, support their careers and track their progress. The program started in 2019 and also introduced a code of conduct to make the economy a less hostile environment, including advice that participants should not interrupt a presenter within the first 10 minutes of a seminar.
Analysis of the latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency by the RES showed that in 2018 just over a quarter of university economists were women. Women were more likely to be employed in lower academic ranks, in research and teaching positions only, rather than in positions that combined the two. At the undergraduate level, only engineering and computer science had lower male-to-female ratios.
There is also a striking pay gap. While the economy as a whole is better paid than many other academic fields, female professors earn less than their male counterparts. In the 2019-20 academic year, economics had the largest gender pay gap among teachers of any subject at UK universities, at 10% compared to the average of 6%.