The Glass Ceiling and the “Leaky Pipeline” in Economics

INOMICS Salary Report

The Glass Ceiling and the “Leaky Pipeline” in Economics

Read a summary or generate practice questions using the INOMICS AI tool

The 2022 INOMICS Salary Report allowed us to examine the field of economics across employer types, job positions, and regions. This article continues with our look at gender (in)equality in economics by examining the glass ceiling. Below, we examine this effect in academia (economists employed by universities) and industry (other employer types).

In the INOMICS Salary Report, we collected and analyzed survey data about economists’ careers worldwide. You can download the full report and examine the economics gender gap information in detail by downloading the Report.

One key feature of gender inequality in the workplace is that equally-skilled women may be passed over for career advancements (like promotions) in favor of men. The term “glass ceiling” is a metaphor for this artificial barrier that impedes women in the workforce. This effect has been well-documented in many industries, and may explain some of the gender pay gap.

Quantifying the Glass Ceiling in Economics

In order to examine the following figures fairly, we must take into account the overall number of women in economics. IDEAS/RePEc estimates that 26.2% of economists are women; meanwhile, 28% of our survey respondents were women. For more information on the gender ratio in economics, see The Gender Ratio in Economics in 2022.

Proportion of Women in Academic Roles in Economics

In academia, women make up larger relative proportions of people in less prestigious positions. There are more women than men in Postdoc, Research Assistant and Student Assistant roles relative to their sample sizes in our data. There are a roughly representative number of women in the PhD Candidate, Associate Professor and Lecturer/Assistant Professor roles. However, proportionally fewer women than men are full Professors of Economics.

Proportion of Women in Industry Roles in Economics

Industry roles exhibit a similar but more pronounced pattern. Although women make up only 27% of our sample, they account for a large proportion of entry or lower-level roles, particularly traineeships and internships. Meanwhile, the amount of women who are researchers/analysts or middle managers is slightly below what would be expected if there was no gender inequality. Finally, the number of women in executive positions is a mere 7%, far below what would be expected with equality.

Research by French economist Dr. Emmanuelle Auriol and colleagues reaches a similar conclusion. Dr. Auriol and her team found that women account for 32% of all economics positions and that women’s representation falls as seniority increases. They find that women make up about 40% of entry-level positions but only 27% of senior positions. They additionally found that the disparity is greater in the US than in Europe.

What is the “Leaky Pipeline”?

The above discussion has highlighted a phenomenon of women disappearing towards the upper ranks of economics. This phenomenon has been dubbed the leaky pipeline. It partially explains why there are fewer women in more senior positions; more women than men drop out of the field, or stop getting promoted, as their career progresses.

It’s not perfectly clear why this occurs, but it is likely due to a combination of gender-based discrimination, lack of support networks, and other hindrances (such as unequal pay) within the field of economics, which are explored below. Moreover, in certain regions childcare expectations, cultural pressure, or lack of parental leave may prevent women from advancing in their careers after having children. It’s possible that more women than men choose to work part-time after starting a family (whether due to personal choices, these cultural expectations, lack of affordable childcare, etc.).

Further, within economics itself, women may face barriers entirely unrelated to their personal situation. An IMF article reveals some of these additional discriminatory factors. They include a look at stereotype-promoting comments on referee reports, the fact that women are more highly underrepresented in macroeconomics, finance and international economics, and the childbirth penalty to earnings that women face across their entire careers. Their article corroborates earlier findings in this article as well, and includes more data that is worth reading.

The European Student Think Tank, drawing from other research, describes the state of women in STEM fields this way:

“...the majority of Master’s students in science are women, but they tend to leave the sector at higher rates than their male counterparts (Thornton 2019). This may be explained by a gender pay gap and the lack of women in senior positions in the digital sector (European Commission 2019), which could discourage younger women from pursuing a career in STEM.”

Moving forward: how to address gender inequality in economics?

One of the best ways to address any problem is to recognize it and make it known. Therefore, we invite all of our readers to study your professional surroundings.

Examine if there are ways in which your university, economics department, workplace, etc. discriminates against women in economics. Engage in conversation about the issues. Check if there is equal pay in your workplace, and advocate for it if not. Be an ally – do not doubt reports of sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination, and take them seriously.

Together, we can build a more egalitarian field where all economists are equally valued.

You need to login to comment


The INOMICS AI can generate an article summary or practice questions related to the content of this article.
Try it now!

An error occured

Please try again later.

3 Practical questions, generated by our AI model