Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Nobel Economics Prize 2019: Esther Duflo And Women In The Economics Profession.

This year's economics Nobel went to (...opens the envelope very very slowly...)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and Harvard University professor Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”
Esther Duflo is only the second woman to have won the Nobel in economics.  Elinor Ostrom, in 2009, was the first.  Duflo has had a brilliant career, winning all sorts of awards for her innovative work on the best ways to reduce poverty and income inequality. 

Duflo's meteoric career (she's the youngest recipient of the Nobel economics prize ever) should not distract us from the fact that the field of economics is not, in general, welcoming to women:

The field of economics has long been viewed as inhospitable to women. A professional climate survey conducted by the nonprofit, non-partisan American Economic Association, released last month, concluded that women in the field were far more likely to experience discrimination on the basis of sex. “But women are also substantially more likely to experience discrimination based on marital status/caregiving responsibilities, age, place of employment, and based on research topics,” the report said.
What’s more, it added, “female respondents are also much more likely to report having experienced discrimination or unfair treatment as students with regard to access to research assistantships, access to advisors, access to quality advising, and on the job market.”
Sighs.  So it goes, still.

What might account for the greater hostility women experience in economics (when compared to their experiences in other social sciences)?

I believe that economics attracts a larger than average share* of very conservative male students who enter the field already believing that women should be at home, not in the labor force, and that women, in any case, are incapable of doing the correct kinds of abstract analyses.

It's not the socially conservative nature of some schools of economic research which directly creates that attraction;  it's the positive correlation between regressive social beliefs and the belief in the great glory of the market system.

So conservative male students** might come for the latter and stay for the former.  The annals of economics have material supporting their views on women (though also severe criticisms of that material), and each new generation will then build on that foundation and create more theories, some based on unholy marriages between economic analysis of the simplest kind and the worst misogynistic speculations of the nutty kind of evolutionary psychology.

Those economics departments which are hospitable places for such views will not create hospitable places for female economists.

* I don't mean that the majority of guys in economics departments would be like that, only that the numbers are greater than in, say, sociology departments.  And possibly even higher than in some STEM fields.

But even a fairly small number of people with those beliefs can affect the climate of the work place, and even more so when they are (as is often the case) older and in power.

** Female students with those social beliefs would not enter economics (or any graduate study, really) in the first place.