Berkeley Blog, Opinion

On sexism in economics

By Emily Eisner, Fiona Burlig and Aluma Dembo

Most of us have probably seen coverage (New York Times, Washington Post) of an undergraduate honors thesis written by UC Berkeley economics major Alice Wu. In her paper, Wu exposes the rampant misogyny cluttering Economics Job Market Rumors, an anonymous forum. While it comes as no great surprise that EJMR is rife with sexist (not to mention racist and homophobic) commentary, Wu’s paper uses natural language processing to quantify the extent of the vitriol — and the results are disappointing.

On the site, the words most commonly associated with women include hotter, lesbian, and feminazi, while the words most commonly associated with men tend to be positive (goals, greatest) or economics-related (adviser, textbook, pricing).

At Women in Economics at Berkeley (WEB, an organization that brings together the community of women studying economics at the graduate level), we condemn in the strongest possible terms the rampant sexism on EJMR.

economics textbooks (iStock photo)Even though EJMR clearly does not represent the views of all economists, the anonymous trolling on the site does represent real issues in the profession, and is a “canary in the coal mine for what happens every day” (Amitabh Chandra).The commentary and attitudes on display at EJMR represent a substantial challenge to women in economics — (explicit) bias — which can discourage women from undergoing graduate training, prevent them from entering academia upon graduation and hamper the careers of female economists.

Furthermore, it is concerning that anybody associated with academic economics use the language described in Wu’s paper to describe women. The existence of this website sends a message to the population that economists do not take misogyny (or racism, classism, etc.) seriously.

Not personally participating in this harmful behavior cannot serve as an excuse or rationale for inaction — especially when the language used at EJMR is viewed in the broader context of women’s experiences in the economics profession.

​A lack of diversity in the economics field — potentially exacerbated by the kind of language found on EJMR — is a serious problem (see Bayer & Rouse 2016 for more on this). Wu’s paper itself serves as a reminder of the importance of including women’s voices in economics: She brought creative methods to a sensitive topic, and sparked a much-needed conversation on gender disparity.

There is mounting empirical evidence that women in economics often face uphill battles. Women get less credit for coauthored work (Sarsons 2017); despite having more readable abstracts, female economists’ papers take six months longer to peer review in a top journal (Hengel 2016); and women are more likely to take on department service that does not contribute to promotion (Babcock et al 2017).

The share of women by Ph.D. cohorts has stagnated for the past decade (Daniel Paserman), and women are underrepresented in economics — even relative to other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (Bayer & Rouse 2016).

Economists throughout the profession have spoken out over the past few days against EJMR. The discussion among economists, across Twitter and personal blogs, has extended to the state of gender disparity in economics as a whole.

By rejecting discriminatory and harmful actions, senior faculty and prominent economists send a clear message to young up-and-coming economists that economics does not stand for bigotry.

We applaud the ongoing commentary that condemns the unacceptable culture at EJMR. We urge the economics profession to take advantage of this conversation and take further action. _Several suggestions have already been floated.

This is reposted from the Women in Economics at Berkeley blog.