The Fed has a smaller share of female economists than the typical federal agency

When he became Fed chair, Jerome Powell replaced Janet Yellen, a female PhD economist.
When he became Fed chair, Jerome Powell replaced Janet Yellen, a female PhD economist.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
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Women are falling behind at the Fed. In 2018, just 190 of the Federal Reserve System’s 776 PhD economists were women. Between 2014 and 2018, that proportion remained constant at 24%, badly trailing the progress made by rest of the US government, according to a study published Friday (Sept. 20) by the Brookings Institution.

By comparison, on average, other federal agencies added these highly educated women to their ranks, boosting their share of female economics PhDs from 30% to 33% over the same period.

Over those four years, the proportion grew most at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (rising by 15%) and the Government Accountability Office (10%). Meanwhile, the CFPB’s gender diversity regressed the most, declining from 29% female economics PhDs in 2014 to only 20% in 2018.

Outside of the Fed, the three largest US government employers of economics PhDs were the Department of Agriculture (184 employed in 2018), the Department of the Treasury (148), and the Department of Health and Human Services (109). Each agency outpaced the Fed’s gender diversity, employing 54, 46, and 52 female economics PhDs respectively.

Unfortunately, though, the Fed’s diversity problem isn’t even the worst of it. Among economics faculty at US universities, just 23% are female PhD economists. For now, economics remains male-dominated, but practitioners are slowly beginning to recognize their profession’s longstanding gender biases.