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Does it matter that certain people, or members of certain groups, are less likely to become economists?

The following table answers this question in terms of efficiency and equity. The left-most column lists three ways in which lower participation rates of certain groups affect our society: 1) Allocation of people to particular professions; 2) Generation of ideas and analyses within disciplines; and 3) Government Policy. The middle column discusses how each of these problems contribute to inefficiency. The rightmost column discusses how these problems contribute to inequity. Information in this table is from Bayer (2011).

Efficiency Effects Equity Effects
In allocating people to professions

Wasted talent, if our methods dissuade some students who would have been brilliant economists

Unfair opportunity, if not everyone has an equal shot at experiencing the joys of being an economist, a satisfying and useful occupation

In generating ideas and analyses within the discipline

Inaccurate and incomplete analyses, since "sound economic analysis benefits from a broader range of perspectives and experiences in the profession" (Collins, 2000)

Inaccurate and incomplete analyses that encourage continued inequality, if economic analysis overlooks the importance of factors that systematically disadvantage members of underrepresented groups, such as nonmarket production, discrimination, and social norms
In making government policy Policies that cause inefficiencies (e.g., analyses that neglect the value of nonmarket production or the persistence of institutional discrimination)

Policies leading to inequity: "Economists are the ones running the Federal Reserve Bank and making everyday decisions that will determine or even undermine the qualify of life of millions of African Americans." (Rhonda Williams)

Only 1.2% of all Phd's in Economics are held by Blacks, despite representing 12.6% of the US population.

Reading list:

The following are suggested readings about how the lack of diversity within Economics contributes to inequity and inefficiency.

  • Engendering economics: conversations with women economists in the United States by Paulette I. Olson and Zohren Emami. (New York: Routledge, 2002)

This book presents interviews from female economists who received Ph.D.s between 1950 and 1975 - a period in which very few women were studying economics. From the book description: "Their post-war experiences as family members, students and professionals, illustrate the challenges that have been faced by women, including both white and African-American women, in a white male dominated profession. Engaging and insightful, the impressive scope of philosophical perspectives, career paths, research interests, feminist inclinations, and observations about the economics profession and women's place within it, will appeal to anyone interested in economics, sociology and gender studies."

  • Ruffins, Paul. (1996) Black economists: an 'elite clan of warrior intellectuals. Black Issues in Higher Education 13 (19). [1]

Abstract: Black economists feel even more isolation and frustration than many African American academics and PhDs, because they continually confront the contradictions between economic theory and blacks' daily experience. The proportion of African Americans with PhDs in economics is very low relative to the undergraduates who study economics or have degrees in related fields of business administration or accounting.

Quotes from the article: "the African-American community, as a whole, suffers when there aren't any African-American economists at the conference table when important decisions are being made." "Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to know why some people had jobs and others didn't, so she took a course in economics. The textbook said that if you went to school and did the right things, you'd get a job. But she said, `that can't be right. I have four cousins in Chicago who finished school, who finished training programs, and who still don't have jobs.' So she studied some more."

  • Krugman, Paul. "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?" The New York Times. [2]

Quote: "The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression, most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn’t sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations...Unfortunately, this romanticized and sanitized vision of the economy led most economists to ignore all the things that can go wrong...economists will have to learn to live with messiness."

  • (Colander (including Making of an Economist II), Holmes, McCloskey, Feminist Economics,...)