Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How immense is the sexism hitch in economics?

During a Sunday service at Champions of Christ recently Pastor Happy Gondwe called people who wanted to be prayed for and scores of girls were among the first to come forward. What startled me was what the girls had asked the pastor to pray for them. Yes they had asked the pastor to pray for intelligence in physical science and mathematics. And true their wishes the pastor prayed for the little girls who yes  I was perplexed that at such a young age they saw the need to excel in science subjects.
I could  not resist to  recall of  a recent economist’s recent list of the 25 most influential economists which did not include a single woman. Many male former central bankers and regional Federal Reserve Bank governors had been  included on the list, but the Economist gave itself a special rule to exclude active central bankers, which meant that Janet Yellen—arguably the world’s most influential economist—didn’t make the list.
I could not stop to think of the two economists in my family yes Eunice Kamwendo and Marsha Kamanga. My father had been many things and it included his degree in economics. And sure these two cousins of mine had looked up to him as their role model.  We are proud of these people because mostly artistic.
Well the absence of female economists the elite list poked University of Michigan Professor and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers to  respond with a tweeted list of influential women economists. Among the names on the list included quite a number of African female economists.
But still I could not stop to ask why are top-notch female economists not being taken seriously? Why are they having trouble being recognized for their contributions to the profession? Why do women still have a hard time in the economics profession in general? There is no shortage of potential explanations.
In their recent academic paper “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape,” Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn, and Wendy M. Williams document the gender gap in economics and discuss many possible hurdles at each stage of a female economist’s career. And in a recent Bloomberg View article, University of Michigan Economics PhD Noah Smith adds to this list of potential hurdles the climate created by many male economists who defend their sexist views as hard-nosed truth telling.
 And even when women do reach these higher levels—despite the difficulty of getting their work published in male-dominated journals and in getting promoted even when they do get their work published—their wages remain lower.
Many male economists underestimate the headwinds women face in economics, but they exist at every stage of a woman’s career. Just as an annual economic growth rate of about .33% per year in the 18th century and 1% in the 19th century transformed the world in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, women in economics face many forces both large and small that add up to a huge overall damper on the number of women who make it to the higher ranks of our profession.
And even when women do reach these higher levels—despite the difficulty of getting their work published in male-dominated journals and in getting promoted even when they do get their work published—their wages remain lower.
 Students don’t give female professors the same respect as they do male professors. Compare ratings given to online teachers who represent themselves as female to one set of students and male to another, as in the experiment these instructors recently conducted.
 Female assistant professors have to worry about whether they dare take advantage of tenure clock extensions to have a child, while male assistant professors have no worries about taking advantage of the tenure clock extensions they get when their wives have a child. For the men, it is a simple strategic choice; for the women, it is reminder to their colleagues that (with rare exceptions) they bear the heaviest burden of taking care of a young child—a burden that might take time away from their research.
 Women in economics often get mistaken at social events for an economist’s spouse instead of being recognized as economists themselves.
 Fostering awareness of issues like these, and a hundred others of the same ilk, is one of the biggest things that can be done to improve women’s lot in economics.

Greater gender equality in economics could also be fostered by a better power balance among colleagues. What we mean is that female economists should be encouraged to assert their power, but male economists should find it hard or impossible to exert illegitimate, sexist power over their female colleagues. If this sounds obvious, it’s much harder than it seems.
If men are allowed to be jerks without suffering serious consequences, while women aren’t, then even well-behaved men have a threat-point that women are denied. One of the most primal reasons to treat someone nicely is the fear of a mistreated person’s anger or revenge. That doesn’t work well for women, because getting angry either makes them look like a harridan, or look overly emotional—both of which carry a big penalty in lost status.

We don’t think the answer here is to change the culture so that women can be jerks, too, but to move toward holding everyone, both men and women, to account for bad behavior.  For many men, it will be a revelation to be called out on the ways in which they demean others. Some may not even realize all the ways they routinely put others down—especially those in vulnerable positions who dare not strike back. But if you talk to a few women who spend time in economics departments, you will hear the stories.

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