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Economics: The White Man’s Monopoly

We have often heard our elders advise us that admission of fault is the first step in solving a problem. One of the prime problems plaguing the Economics profession is its lack of diversity. However, Economists seem to be far away from admitting their fault or even discussing it. In 2014, in the United States of America, out of 500 doctoral degrees awarded in Economics, only 28.4 percent were women. In the Economics profession, women and the underrepresented minority groups occupy a small portion of the Tenure and Tenure-Track faculties in Economics. Women represent 23.5 percent while the minority groups occupy 6.3 percent. Even in the introductory Economics textbooks, women are less than a quarter of the mentions of all people. There have been speculations that the inability of women to see themselves in these textbooks deters them from pursuing this field.


The lack of diversity starts right at the undergraduate level. With only a few role models to look up to or gain guidance from, women and minority groups choose to pursue other fields of study rather than considering Economics as their preferred choice. They play a crucial role in developing a prospective student’s interest in an academic subject. Current research points towards the fact that instructor identity does make some difference. Introductory level Economics taught by a female faculty member has an almost negligible impact on the decision to further major in Economics. However, research conducted by Galina Hale and Tali Regev in 2014 showed that women are keener to pursue a PhD in Economics because of the larger share of women in the Economics faculty at the top universities.

Wage-gap is a persistent issue in every profession, even in the Economics profession. Although the diversity in the US Government Economists is improving, it is still low relative to other professions. It comprises only 32 percent of women and 7.3 percent of members of underrepresented minorities, which includes Black, Hispanic and Native Americans. Small but statistically significant differences in earnings exist between White Male Government Economists and members of Gender & Racial subgroups, especially underrepresented minority men. In the Federal Government, White Female Economists have no wage gap relative to White Male Economists. The wage gap gets reduced for the minority groups once they enter the Federal Government. However, in future employment, White Male Economists earn more than women and URM Economists.


Why should Economists even care about diversity and underrepresented minority groups in the Economics profession?

Economists have distinct opinions on matters of policy and Economic outcomes. According to research conducted by May, McGarvey and Whaples (2014), in a survey of 143 American Economic Association(AEA) members with doctoral degrees from US universities, men and women Economists have distinct perspectives on policies and Economic outcomes, even after controlling for vintage of PhD and type of jobs. Women are 21 percent more likely to agree that the United States Government has excessive regulation of Economic activity; 32 percent more likely to agree with making the distribution of income more equal, and 42 percent more likely to agree that labour market opportunities are unequal for men and women. These differences in opinion with their male counterparts can affect the hiring and promotion of women and put them at a disadvantage. It is also crucial to factor in the views of different minority groups alongside those of male and female Economists. Since it affects the entire population of a nation, it is imperative to include diverse viewpoints to consider the effects of the policies on all its constituents. With diverse perspectives, Economists will be forced to consider unique ways of thinking and convince those who are of different opinions.

Group dynamics shift completely when the groups are diverse. New ways of problem-solving emerge in mixed groups. In an experimental setting with 216 undergraduate business groups, it was discovered that racially diverse groups outperformed racially homogenous groups in solving complex problems (Phillips et al. 2006). The homogenous groups spent less time on their tasks and perceived their information to be less unique. In a similar setting, 200 jury-eligible community members from Michigan were involved in a study that showed participants in a racially diverse mock jury discussed cases with longer deliberations, fewer errors and considered a wide range of perspectives.

2.5 million research papers written between 1985 and 2008 exhibited that research papers written by ethnically diverse teams were of higher impact and included more citations than those of homogenous groups. This suggests that greater diversity in this field may lead to more impactful research. The creativity of the mixed groups will have a beneficial impact on the research. With a heterogeneous team, questions will be looked at and answered from different perspectives. Amanda Bayer, Professor of Economics at Swarthmore College states, “The lack of diversity in our profession likely hampers our whole discipline, constraining the range of issues that we address and limiting our collective ability to understand familiar issues from new perspectives.”

HOW CAN DIVERSITY IN ECONOMICS BE IMPROVED? Many students have the misconception that Economics is a subject which only deals with Money, Interest and Growth rates. The first image that comes to their mind is that of men in black suits in a high-stress financial career. This wrong image of Economics fails to attract the best talent in this field. Changing the way Economics is taught at the undergraduate level is a great way to start. Economics is taught in a lecture format. Most universities adopt a lecture format to teach their courses. Research shows that it is one of the most inferior teaching methods in present times. Issues of race, gender and ethnicity are rarely discussed in undergraduate courses. Active learning, which promotes discussions between teachers and students, is one of the best alternatives. It encourages hands-on learning and follows the concept of “Ask rather than Tell”. It has been proved to improve exam performances across all courses and has particular benefits for women and underrepresented minorities in male-dominated fields.

The AEA has introduced mentoring programs to provide better mentorship to women and underrepresented minorities and opportunities to conduct guided research. It also helps them develop skills and networks vital in staying and moving forward in the field of Economics. A randomized study of its effectiveness proved that the mentoring program produced beneficial professional outcomes. It led to an increase in top-tier publications and the total number of publications. Another mentorship program, Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics (DITE) aids untenured Professors and Economists to strengthen their research and attain tenure. It helps to identify, develop and leverage a research program en route to an effective tenure placement.

Lack of diversity is a major problem in Economics. The same group of people in the profession will limit the problems they tackle and the tools to resolve them. Diversity is a vital component if this field is to grow and change. Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve Chair said, “When Economics is tested by future challenges, I hope that our profession will be able to say that we have done all we could to attract the best people and the best ideas.”

Sanchit MaitraWriting Mentorship 2021

Stevenson, B. and Zlotnick, H., 2018. Representations of Men and Women in Introductory Economics Textbooks. AEA Papers and Proceedings, 108, pp.180-185. Bayer, A. and Rouse, C., 2016. Diversity in the Economics Profession: A New Attack on an Old Problem. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(4), pp.221-242. Foster, L., Manzella, J., McEntarfer, E. and Sandler, D., 2020. Employment and Earnings for Federal Government Economists: Empirical Evidence by Gender and Race. AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110, pp.210-214. Chicago Booth Review. 2021. Capitalisn’t: Why a lack of diversity is hurting economics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 July 2021]. MAY, A., MCGARVEY, M. and WHAPLES, R., 2013. ARE DISAGREEMENTS AMONG MALE AND FEMALE ECONOMISTS MARGINAL AT BEST?: A SURVEY OF AEA MEMBERS AND THEIR VIEWS ON ECONOMICS AND ECONOMIC POLICY. Contemporary Economic Policy, 32(1), pp.111-132.getRandomImage(‘Economics-The-White-Mans-Monopoly’)
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