Should-Read: Heather Boushey: Gaps in the Market

Should-Read: Our fearless leader Heather Boushey has a piece in the New Republic on why there are so many fewer female economists in America than one would expect. The thing that strikes me most comes from following Heather’s link to Bayer and Rouse: “gender-neutral policies to stop the tenure clock for new parents substantially reduce female tenure rates while substantially increasing male tenure rates…” A man who has a kid and stops the tenure clock for a year has many sleepless nights and has an extra year to polish journal submissions. A woman has those, and also has nine months growing a human being inside of her and three years eating for two. The two experiences are simply not analogous. Treating them as if they are is anti-female discrimination—in effect, if not in intent: Heather Boushey: Gaps in the Market: “it’s not about the math. Women account for more than 40 percent of undergraduate math majors…

…At this year’s annual economics conference, a number of scholars presented papers examining why there are so few women in economics and what we can do about it. A recent working paper by the University of North Carolina’s Anusha Chari and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham of the New York Federal Reserve even found that the overall share of women participating in a prestigious annual economics conference hasn’t improved in over 15 years. But the profession has been slow to deliver real fixes. One reason for this may be that economists are predisposed to believe discrimination is nonsensical. Standard economic theory tells us that firms—and people—who favor one group over another irrespective of their productivity will be driven out by market competition….

Because the process is so market-driven, the question that economists need to ask is whether gender and racial bias in the profession indicates something more troubling about economics itself…. If the market for economists isn’t efficient, what market is? Amanda Bayer and Cecilia Elena Rouse tackled this issue in their 2016 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. They argue that “the social science discipline of economics will be strengthened if it is built on a broader segment of the population,” and outline steps the profession could take to address the problem. Some of these are simple, such as changing the way we teach undergraduate economics, and some will require more work, such as providing better early career support and breaking down implicit bias in the profession…. For any profession—but particularly for an academic discipline that describes itself as scientific—to reject its own core findings is stupid at best, deeply hypocritical at worst. This is the profession that established the fact that labor-market discrimination contributes to lower productivity, lower economic growth, and lower wage growth. Of all people, economists cannot fail to address discrimination in our own ranks…

February 13, 2018


Brad DeLong
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