There is a significant gender gap in prestigious economics journals, according to new analysis of decades of data. Despite women making up 30% of first-year PhD students in more than 40 economics programs in the US, only 17% of the papers published in the top five academic journals have women authors, economist Caroline Krafft’s research shows.
This means that women have disproportionately fewer opportunities to assert their influence on contemporary economic thought. The top five journals—the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Political Economy, and Quarterly Journal of Economics—have an outsize impact on academic careers in the field, including who receives tenure and promotions, especially at top universities. They can also help determine government policy. Two of them have been publishing for more than 100 years.
“The idea with those journals is if you can get one publication in one of those journals, it kind of makes your career,” says economist Zoe McLaren, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. ”It’s that golden touch.”
“I knew there were problems with women and representation in economics,” said Krafft, who is also an associate professor of economics at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. “About 30% of assistant professors are women in economics, and none of the journals had hit that mark. They were all well below.”
Women face disproportionate challenges in their careers as economists, including the extra work involved in getting published. Research papers written by female authors took six months longer to be reviewed at the top journal Econometrica, although they were more readable compared to papers written by male authors. Women have also been “substantially underrepresented” in top publications since the 1980s. And when women co-authored with men, they received less credit for their work.
Some things are slowly changing, however. Last month, Oriana Bandiera of the London School of Economics started her four-year term as co-author of Econometrica. Bandiera is the first woman in this role since the academic journal began in 1933. “Now it’ll be interesting to see if that [percentage of women authors] changes,” says Krafft.
“I lived this,” Shelly Lundberg, economics professor at the University of California Santa Barbara said with a laugh, citing the completion of her PhD 40 years ago. During Lundberg’s three years of experience as chair of the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, she noticed progress “completely flatlined for the last 10 or 15 years”. It prompted her to publish a paper last year detailing exactly how the careers of female economists are stalled. “Women are getting held to different standards,” she said. “There’s a lot of evidence that the same is true at the tenure level.”
While Krafft’s analysis does not yet include race, economist Gary Hoover estimates the actual number of non-white women who have published in the top five journals is “extremely rare”. “Look and see how many Black females are in the profession,” said Hoover, the chair of the economics department at the University of Oklahoma who has also chaired the AEA’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession for a decade. The editorial boards of the top five journals are predominantly white men. “That means there’s not a lot of representation and that’s where a lot, maybe most, of the powers is in economics,” says McLaren.
But even with increased discussions about race and gender in the field of economics, including comments about the need for diversity to be a top priority within the profession and in the federal government from former Fed chair Janet Yellen, Quartz spoke to several economists who are pessimistic about the field’s capacity for further change.“I think the average economist does not believe that economics is losing anything through its lack of diversity,” Lundberg said. “They don’t want to see the problem.”
Krafft’s analysis came only a few days after economist Claudia Sahm published a deeply critical blog post—titled “Economics is a disgrace“—detailing her negative experiences in the industry, including sexism and harassment while she worked at the Federal Reserve.
“I think it’s fair to acknowledge that there’s been a lot of pain and injustice and unfair treatment that women have experienced in the workplace not just among economists, but among economists and at the Fed that’s been going on for far too long,” said Fed chair Jerome Powell, referring to Sahm’s post, which he said he hadn’t yet read. “Like every other organization, the Fed could have done more and should have done more.”
“This profession knows exactly what to do,” Hoover says. “We know to incentivize the behavior we want. But when it comes to this issue, everyone runs around and says they have no clue, which means that they are willfully ignorant of the very thing that we’re teaching in this class.”