Feminism and economics

Opinion by Claire Dinshaw
April 5, 2018, 1:25 a.m.

Since entering Stanford in September, I have taken five courses in Stanford’s economics department. All of them have been taught by men.

In fact, each of the six core economics courses — Econ 1, Econ 102A, Econ 102B, Econ 50, Econ 51 and Econ 52 — were taught by men during the 2017-18 academic year, with John Taylor, Mark Duggan and Marcelo Clerici-Arias teaching Econ 1, Scott McKeon teaching Econ 102A and B, Chris Mackler teaching Econ 50 and 51, and Pablo Daniel Kurlat, Pete Klenow and Johannes Paul Dolfen teaching Econ 52.

The majority of advanced economics electives require the completion of at least some of these core courses for enrollment. The few introsems and standard courses that do not have pre-requisites are also taught almost exclusively by men with the sole exception of Caroline Hoxby’s course on the economics of education taught as part of the Education as Self-Fashioning program.

To be clear, the male professors and lecturers currently responsible for teaching the core are immensely qualified and talented. Scott McKeon is famously beloved by students for the entertaining and comprehensive manner in which they advance through the material, Mark Duggan has an ASHEcon Medal for exemplary work in the field of health economics and John Taylor is world-renowned for his work documenting the relationship between interest rates and inflation. However, regardless of the qualifying abilities of these individuals, the male dominance of the economics department, particularly the economics core, means that a prospective economics major may interact almost exclusively with male professors during the beginning of their exploration of the field. In fact, sophomore economics majors may have never been taught by a female economics professor.

This detracts from the education of women exploring economics as a potential major or minor, causing them to both feel discouraged in their exploration of the field and lack role models who have experience dealing with the gendered prejudices of the field. Considering this, it is crucial that Stanford actively work to diversify the economics department and particularly the individuals it chooses to teach the department’s introductory classes.

For women, it is incredibly discouraging to participate in a field comprised of almost exclusively men. Prospective female economics majors are faced with a department where not a single individual seems to visibly understand the entirety of my experience and where the thought that maybe people “like me” don’t do this, don’t understand this, is constantly present in our minds.

These feelings of inadequacy persist among many female students and have been well documented in studies as having a lasting impact on the choices of female students and the future diversity of various fields. In fact, female undergraduates are more likely to take on leadership roles in classes and organizations when female role models are present. Furthermore, a survey of 1,200 university faculty members reported that the success of female graduate students was greatly impacted by the presence, or lack thereof, of female role models in academic departments.

Representation of female professors is also important to the future success of male students studying economics. For one, discussions tend to be more diverse and engaging when the faculty of a given department is more diverse, representing the true racial and gender demographics of America. Furthermore, considering the fact that the gender make-up of corporate America and other sectors are, slowly, changing, it is important that all students, men and women, learn to interact with and respect men and women in positions of power.

To be clear, the lack of representation of women specifically in the field of economics is not just a Stanford problem. The majority of economics departments across the country disproportionately represent men. Even Wellesley University, a women’s college, has a predominantly male economics faculty.

This is, at least in part, due to the lack of women with economics Ph.D.s. As of 2011, only 36 percent of economics Ph.D.s were awarded to women, the smallest share of any in the social sciences. However, an even smaller proportion of women are represented within the academic profession. As of 2012, women made up only 28 percent of assistant professors and 12 percent of full professors.

Admittedly, this 62 percent gap can be partially explained by the different career and family choices often made by men and women. However, Donna Ginther of the University of Kansas and Shulamit Kahn of Boston University found that, even after controlling for education, ability, productivity and family choices, there was a persistent gap of approximately 16 percentage points between the likelihood of the promotion of a man as opposed to a woman to the role of full professor.

This is, in all probability, due to various continued prejudices and biases that hold women back, not just in economics but also in physics, chemistry, computer science and countless other fields. Economics is the most quantitative of the social sciences and a field that is considered to be extremely rational. As a result, women, who are traditionally viewed as more emotional than rational, have historically struggled in the field. The solution to this decades-long problem of representation and inclusion is complex, but it can start with Stanford ensuring that at least one female professor is responsible for teaching a component of the economics core.

This simple step would at least provide entry-level economics students exploring the field with role models of both genders. This would, in all likelihood, encourage more women to study and explore economics while also providing those who were planning on entering the field, regardless of the faculty make-up, with a greater sense of inclusion and belonging from the beginning of their academic career.

I am eager for the day when representing women no longer has to be a priority that must be explicitly named. However, today is not that day. Today, representing women must be a stated priority if we are to ensure that women are fairly represented in offices and departments across the country, including Stanford’s economics department.

Contact Claire Dinshaw at cdinshaw ‘at’ stanford.edu

Claire Dinshaw is a rising senior majoring in economics and minoring in political science and feminism, gender and sexuality studies. She is originally from Connecticut. In her free time she enjoys attempting to cook and playing Tetris. Contact at [email protected]

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