From Diversifying Economic Quality: A Wiki for Instructors and Departments
Introductory economic textbooks often contain misrepresentations of underrepresented groups or do not even bother to mention them at all. They also frequently fail to communicate the vital policy and social issues economists study in their research. The textbook is an integral component to the economics classroom and appears to be an authoritative and objective representation of our discipline. Biases that are present in economic textbooks not only create an uncomfortable or irrelevant classroom environment for underrepresented students but may discourage underrepresented students from pursuing further studies in economics.
Common issues found in introductory economics textbooks include biases associated with the definition of economic problems, biases associated with the review of previous research, and biases that marginalize the experiences of women and minorities. The topic of marginalizing the experiences of women was pioneered by the economist Susan Feiner in a 1987 paper co-authored with Barbara Morgan which found that 21 introductory textbooks included only passing mentions of women and did not focus on topics specifically related to women. Feiner went on to write multiple later articles which found that through out the mid-to late 1990s, representation of women in economics textbooks continued. A study by Marianne Ferber in 1995 found that 8 out of 9 introductory textbooks did not discuss the influx of women into the labor market, despite this being one of the most significant changes to the economy in the second half of the 20th century.
Biases in economics textbooks can also depict women or minority groups in a negative light. In remarks at the 1995 National Science Foundation Workshop on Integrating Race and Gender into the Introductory Economics Course, Lisa Saunders, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, discussed how the text of introductory textbooks invoked negative feelings from minority groups. She quoted an author's explanation of the riots in Los Angeles: "Black resentment was certainly understandable, but it was also perverse." While the intent in this textbook was to describe the riots as economically perverse, this statement may affect and African American student differently
Additionally, unlike other social sciences like sociology, political science, or psychology, extensive documentation of sources are typically not provided in economics textbooks. Therefore often times it is ambiguous as to whether a study sample has flawed methodology which as a result has depicted underrepresented groups negatively.
References may also contribute to biases found in economics textbooks. Often times, textbooks have very little variety in the sources used to present topics (e.g. poverty). "Despite the commitment of teachers and textbooks to “teaching students to think like economists,” it is remarkable that our textbooks offer so little choice on these important issues" (Feiner 150). Presenting multiple perspectives on an issue is important when trying to teach an unbiased view of a concept, particularly one as controversial as poverty or welfare.
Bartlett, Robin. "Discovering Diversity in Introductory Economics." Journal of Economics Perspectives 10(2) (Spring 1996) 141-153 http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.10.2.141