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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, David. "The Making of an Economist Redux." (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

From Book Description: "Updating David Colander and Arjo Klamer's classic The Making of an Economist, this book shows what is happening in elite U.S. economics Ph.D. programs. By examining these programs, Colander gives a view of cutting-edge economics--and a glimpse at its likely future. And by comparing economics education today to the findings of the original book, the new book shows how much--and in what ways--the field has changed over the past two decades. The original book led to a reexamination of graduate education by the profession, and has been essential reading for prospective graduate students."

  • Holmes, Jessica and Colander, David. (2007). "The Making of an Economist Redux." Middlebury College Economics Discussion Paper 07-25. [3]

Abstract: This paper reports on the findings of a survey of top economics graduate schools as they relate to women and men. The results provide strong evidence that at these top graduate schools, women graduate students are less integrated in their economic disciplines than are male graduate students. In the second part of the paper, this paper relates those findings to alternative theories as to why this is the case. This paper concludes by suggesting that the emphasis on theoretical studies in the current core of the graduate economics program can be seen as a type of hazing process that seems to have a significant cost since many women (and men) with great creative promise are discouraged from continuing in economics and do not benefit nearly as much as they would have from more policy-driven core courses.

  • McCloskey, Deirdre. "Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

From Book Description: "The big economic story of our times is not the Great Recession. It is how China and India began to embrace neoliberal ideas of economics and attributed a sense of dignity and liberty to the bourgeoisie they had denied for so long. The result was an explosion in economic growth and proof that economic change depends less on foreign trade, investment, or material causes, and a whole lot more on ideas and what people believe.

Or so says Deirdre N. McCloskey in Bourgeois Dignity, a fiercely contrarian history that wages a similar argument about economics in the West. Here she turns her attention to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe to reconsider the birth of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. According to McCloskey, our modern world was not the product of new markets and innovations, but rather the result of shifting opinions about them. During this time, talk of private property, commerce, and even the bourgeoisie itself radically altered, becoming far more approving and flying in the face of prejudices several millennia old. The wealth of nations, then, didn’t grow so dramatically because of economic factors: it grew because rhetoric about markets and free enterprise finally became enthusiastic and encouraging of their inherent dignity."