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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Economics needs a cure to the wage gap between women and men

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On Feb. 8, Cornell University economist Alyssa Cohn served as a moderator for the 14th annual Census of Economics, at which some 400 economics professors and economic reporters gathered to discuss the 2017 State of Economic Thought and Policy.

Facing a survey question about the class sizes students in their department encounter, Cohn pointed out that students usually encounter a higher number of administrative assistants than professors — but that that staff tends to be female. And this is precisely the issue.

Women are underrepresented as instructors. At 54 percent, women make up almost half of undergraduate students, but they make up only 37 percent of the bachelor’s degree holders who enter the economics profession.

Her question was on the heels of a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on how women are more likely to be on the receiving end of unwanted sexual comments at university lecture halls.

The problem of women in economics does not just exist at the university level. The global financial crisis shows how women are out of a job despite having more advanced degrees than men.

The magnitude of the disparity facing women when taking research in economics is startling. The most recent research evaluating women in economics tends to be self-serving research with little regard for evidence. The situation is no different in academia. Female economists do not write a great deal of research papers when they are not subject to social bias. Rather, they tend to only send out one or two of their papers to be reviewed. Many women also are not careful about how they write, considering “content” (meaning academic papers) to be less important than a “person” (their peers).

It is even worse when it comes to women in statistical research. Her take on the issue in a March 26, 2017, Penn Medicine column:

Womenomics,” i.e., fixing gender imbalance in women’s affairs in the workplace and analyzing pay inequality between men and women, and the need for greater respect for women and women’s bodies, are often positive takes on the financial situation of women.

But women who earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a field in general — e.g., psychology — are likely to be more financially secure. In economics, women tend to work in complementary fields, acting on the basis of their expertise and often through collaborative projects with men, with benefits to her performance and earnings. The short-term imbalance in earnings is compensated by increased personal freedom — if her tenure negotiations get ugly, she can easily find a job in an entirely different field of academia.

The remedy should be simple: educators and scientists need to create faculty more attuned to gender-based equality.

What is also likely is that women will continue to find ways to figure out how to pass on their research — through their children.

Other voices in this column:

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