Sunday, August 20, 2017

Economics Jobs Rumors. And Rumors About Sexism.

Justin Wolfers writes about an economics senior thesis in the New York Times.  Most senior theses, even award winning ones, don't get covered in the national media, but Linda Wu's was.

Her research is about the talk at, an online site intended to help young economists find jobs, and her goal is to study gender stereotyping in the academia.  The site is what Wolfers calls an online water cooler, the forums (fora?) are not very strictly moderated, and the users are anonymous.

Wu mined (some of?) the forums for data on how economists there talk about men and women:

Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”
She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.
The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. It includes words that are relevant to economics, such as adviser, Austrian (a school of thought in economics) mathematician, pricing, textbook and Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania business school that is President Trump’s alma mater). More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel. And to the extent that there is a clearly gendered theme, it is a schoolyard battle for status: The list includes words like bully, burning and fought.
Wu also analyzed the contexts in which men and women were discussed:

This part of her analysis reveals that discussions about men are more likely to be confined to topics like economics itself and professional advice (with terms including career, interview or placement).
Discussions of women are much more likely to involve topics related to personal information (with words like family, married or relationship), physical attributes (words like beautiful, body or fat) or gender-related terms (like gender, sexist or sexual).

Wu's research is interesting, even though results from one anonymous online site cannot be extended to the whole economics profession and even though it's impossible to know whether the sexist commentary comes from a small but productive minority who might not even be economists.

Because I am not well versed with Wu's methods a closer analysis of her paper would not have been productive.  Instead,  I decided to visit the site to see how its members chose to respond to the news that the New York Times had made it (in)famous.(1)

And that, my friends, was fun!  It felt a bit like entering one of the nastier types of manosphere sites where people talk about feminazis and beta males and libtards, though much of that output seems to come from one poster or two.  Not all the responses were nasty, and it can even be expected that those wishing to comment on the Wolfers article would be those who felt angriest about it.

Still, it's very funny to have responses like this (2)  to an article wondering if the environment at is toxic to women:

The first part is a comment attributing Wu's success to nothing but the (extra) hole between her legs, which might be just a tiny bit sexist.  The second part is a nice, righteously angry answer to that one, except when it applies the moniker "ball-licking emasculated coward" to the first poster.  After all, women, by definition, are emasculated, and at least some heterosexual men would like them to be ball-licking, too.

Sigh, I'm getting too old for this shit.  The point I want to make is that the is not a place I would visit if I were a young female economist looking for a site where I could get tips about jobs and hang out with others in the same position.  The poster on that site who attributed women's lower presence in the field to mostly supposed biological differences in interests and abilities should certainly also ask if anything else, anything else at all, might have a differential effect on women and men considering becoming economists (3).

To return to Wolfer's NYT article:  He quotes professor George Borjas of Harvard as someone who finds the site refreshing.  Borjas mentioned the site in an earlier blog post (quote comes from there) and states that his views have not changed:

Professor Borjas said: “There’s still hope for mankind when many of the posts written by a bunch of over-educated young social scientists illustrate a throwing off of the shackles of political correctness and reflect mundane concerns that more normal human beings share: prestige, sex, money, landing a job, sex, professional misconduct, gossip, sex. …” 
Borjas is not some anonymous troll on the net.  He is a powerful economist, with influence on immigration policies.   Thus, it's useful to know what he views as the shackles of political correctness and how he defines "sex."(4)


(1) This is not research and my visit was not extensive.  Neither did I select a random sample of topics to peruse.  I simply wanted to know how people on that site reacted to Wolfers' article.  All my reading was done on August 19, though I tried to read all the threads addressing Wolfers and Wu.  

The defenses made for either the site as not at all toxic for women or for women's lower numbers in the economics profession as biologically based or nondiscriminatory did not show very deep thinking (by August 19th, not going back there).

On the toxicity of the site, some argued that the site is equally nasty to people like Paul Krugman as it is to women.  But then of course, Krugman is not attacked for being a man, but for what he has written.  Others argued that all sites which are moderated with a feather duster tend to be full of nasty trolls.  That is true, but nasty trolls should attack men and women equally (though they do not).

On the reasons for few women in economics the usual story about men excelling in mathematics and women in language was brought up.  That should nicely explain why all the most famous people in literary history are women, right?  I have written about the differential upper tail arguments before on this blog.  The same poster also questioned if women might be capable of doing pure theory.  Joan Robinson turned over in her grave. 

One poster linked to an article which shows that in sociology in some other country women were hired with fewer publications than men.  That has nothing to do with the question whether economics is a particularly toxic profession for women (it probably is, given that evolutionary psychology and economics seem to attract the most socially conservative men), and another article has found out that though women publish less, on average, the quality of their articles (measured by citations) is higher.

I loved the poster who reminded us that Einstein was just a clerk in a patent office when he was found and made into a star, so any woman who is as smart as Einstein can thrive, even against sexism and such, and will be found and made into a star, too.  Oh, to be young and innocent again.

It's possible that the discussion on the site now contains absolutely fool-proof defenses of its salutary effects for female economists.

(2) I captured this comment on August 19.  It is possible that moderation will have removed it later as I read that the moderation is not very fast.

(3)  Knowing that one is going to have more misogynistic colleagues in some fields than in others might matter when a woman is planning a career. After all, those colleagues could create all kinds of unpleasant events, especially if they are in charge of one's tenure and promotion at some later date.

Thus, a greater amount of sexism in some field works as an extra tax on the women who enter that field.  Or a nonmonetary cost, if you wish, which could even turn into monetary losses if the misogynists are powerful enough.

(4)  This is slightly vague, but I get the impression that Borjas thinks of young economists as hetero guys.  Then "sex" talk  is the same thing as talking about anal and women's fuckability.  But "sex" talk could be quite different.  Young women could, for instance, address the question whether Borjas is still fuckable or if he ever was.