Women in Economics: Bridging the Gender Gap

Women in Economics: Bridging the Gender Gap

As of 2011, significantly more women than men completed secondary education in an astounding 32 of the 34 OECD member countries, according to a study by OECD researchers. On average, women accounted for 58% of graduates overall, though the range between countries is quite great. Moreover, the numbers vary tremendously across disciplines, with the areas of health & welfare and arts & humanities still heavily female, while math & science remain overwhelmingly male.

When examining the specific field of economics, women are quite underrepresented, and the gap has widened over the past decades. In the United States, there are nearly 3 male economics majors for every female, which is a significantly greater proportion than 20 years ago, as can be seen in the graph above. Following the research of Dr. Claudia Goldin, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University, it seems that this gender gap has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with confidence, perceptions and career goals.

Women tend to be more discouraged than men by low grades in introductory economics courses, and tend to be less confident with a similar level of ability. Furthermore, female students are often under-informed about thewide range of career paths available to economics graduates, including research and policy positions in issues ranging from social inclusion to the environment to migration and development.

Yet, with Janet Yellen joining the ranks of female central bank leaders of countries including Russia, Israel and South Africa, the number of women in high-level economics positions is growing, and their potential for impact is great. Dr. Goldin points out, however, that the gender gap at the top will remain broad if more women don’t start to close it at the university level.

In order to begin this process, Dr. Goldin encourages a re-framing of the field itself – moving away from the perception that economics is all about hard numbers and towards a recognition of the human element inherent within the discipline. Moreover, open conversations regarding the work/life balance can help women feel more confident as they traverse the difficult road towards professorships and other careers. According to our ownEconomics Job Market Report from 2013, work/life balance was ranked second out of 13 factors economists from around the world consider when choosing a job, underscoring the importance of this issue for everyone, and highlighting the usefulness of frank discussions on this topic.

As a way to support the many burgeoning and established women economists who might be reading this blog, we wanted to provide a few links to resources relevant to you and your career. Please peruse these links and feel free to add more in the comments section!

The graph at the top of this post was created by INOMICS using data from the OECD study published in 2011.