Philadelphia Story

by John Quiggin on January 5, 2014

I’m in bitterly cold Philadelphia at the moment attending the meetings of the American Economic Association (and a bunch of related societies). I was at a very interesting session on long-run discounting, which had a panel of six with (as is common) one woman[^1]. Looking around the room, I realised that the panel was actually balanced (inside econometric joke) when compared with the audience, which was about 90 per cent male.

I don’t think that the academic economics profession is quite as male-dominated as that. Some casual discussions suggested a couple of hypotheses:

(i) There were some parallel sessions on gender issues for which the audience was mostly female (not surprising, but kind of ambivalent)

(ii) Men were more likely to attend the sessions while female colleagues were more likely to be on the hiring teams. For those unfamiliar with this exercise, a large part of academic conferences consists of academics sitting in hotel rooms for days on end while a string of recent PhDs give a 15 minute pitch on a piece of research (their ‘job market paper’) followed by a ritual Q&A (a plausible but depressing story)

I get the impression that academic philosophy is even worse than economics, but that most other disciplines are better. Any thoughts?

[^1]: Maureen Cropper, who’s been doing great work in this field as long as I can remember



Matt 01.05.14 at 4:27 am

Philosophy is usually said to be about 20% female among the tenured/tenure track faculty, though I can’t say I know that for sure. From what you say, I can’t tell if that’s better or worse than economics, though it’s obviously pretty bad.

How much longer are you in Philadelphia? If you’re not leaving immediately, I’m glad to point out things of interest. (It’s my current home, and has been off and on for most of the last 12 years.)


hix 01.05.14 at 8:24 am

Well, as an undergraduate student in a business adminstration oriented degree im faced with the opposit situation. 12 years ago when i tried to study economics, it was still 50%/50%. So im still thinking the same as on the philosophy topic: Youre fighting the last war.


Neil Levy 01.05.14 at 10:21 am

Many people organizing conferences in philosophy report that it is harder to get female speakers than male: the rate of acceptances from women is significantly lower (this fits my experience too). Two possible explanations: women tend to take their family responsibilities more seriously – that is, they don’t feel entitled to leave the kids at home for a few days with the spouse (and they might be getting all sorts of messages from various sources that they are not as entitled). This might generalize to taking their responsibilities more seriously outside the family: for instance, they may be less willing to cancel classes or arrange for someone else to teach them. Second possible explanation is a perverse effect of attempts at gender inclusiveness: women in philosophy, because they are a minority (a slightly bigger minority than Matt suggests: around 27%) are overstretched when it comes to committee work, conference invitations, and so forth, because an effort is made to have women represented. If you are the only woman in your department, and it is felt that every committee must include at least one woman, then you are more or less required to be on every committee. This fits with your suggestion that women were more likely to be on the hiring panels than in the conference room.


Neil Levy 01.05.14 at 10:23 am

His, is your point that given the proportion of undergraduates the problem will sort itself out? The proportion of female undergraduates in philosophy has been 50% or greater for decades, and people have been making your claim ever since. They have been wrong ever since.


Alanba42 01.05.14 at 11:03 am

A bit off- topic, but how far has Skype interviewing gotten in Economics? Or Philosophy? Here at Directional State it appears to be the wave of the future (and present) which I’m sure a lot of grad students are happy about, although I’m sure the ethical superiority of Skype is not why we are doing this.

Is economics changing at all, or are they still all conference interviews? Or is it something where the discipline does not matter, just how rich your school is?


John Quiggin 01.05.14 at 11:08 am

@Alanba I think this icebound disaster has given it a bit of a push – lots of people didn’t make it, although most of the candidates got to town before the storm. I’m certainly in favor of Skype for all such purposes, but Australian universities are at enough of a disadvantage we feel the need to come in person. If one or two of the top US universities would go this way, it could really start a trend.


Harry 01.05.14 at 1:34 pm

Two trends in Philosophy. 1) Skype interviews considerably outnumber APA interviews at this point (this is my impression from talking to candidates who have had numerous interviews — the majority are skype); 2) Its still a minority, but it is more common than it used to be that departments go straight to on-campus interviews, without an intermediate stage.

On Philosophy versus Economics: I’ve seen data on this several times (but can’t find it now) showing that women are better represented in Economics than in Philosophy, at every level — full prof, assoc prof, tenure track, PhD awards, and grad school (in the US).

Neil — where is the stat that women are 50% of undergraduates? You mean majors? That surprises me — it is not true of the 4 US departments where I’ve asked about this recently.


Neil Levy 01.05.14 at 1:43 pm

Harry, here is some data for Australia: women quite significantly outnumber men at undergraduate level (note that in Australia you don’t have to declare a major until 2nd year, and even then you can switch).

For the UK the proportion of women is slightly lower; nevertheless, it is and has long been much higher at the undergraduate level than any other (and therefore Hix’s suggestion seems to be false):


alex 01.05.14 at 8:11 pm

I think the problem is that economics is too cosmopolitan. Among US citizens more women get PhDs than men, but among visa holders men outnumber women more than 2 to 1. Incredibly, getting on for 2/3 of US economics PhDs go to visa holders. Given the shameful state of gender relations in some parts of the world, we end up with a discipline where only 3 in 10 of doctorates go to women.

Now, we know from the example of more progressive disciplines like letters, psychology, health sciences, and the humanities that this doesn’t have to be the case. What we need to do is start erecting some trade barriers and doing a bit more informal ‘cultural’ profiling of applicants. Nothing non-PC, just be harsher on thick accents, poor grammar, and people who can’t really work a room. With the right policies we could completely reverse our gender ratios and hugely reduce the externalities our profession has inflicts on the rest of the world.


hix 01.06.14 at 7:44 am

@ Neil. Yes my claim is pretty much that this will at least sort out, if not worse with some time gap. That time gap can be longer than suggested by a mere cohort effect (e.g. that the male dominanted establishment at every higher level will discriminate against female candidates for a while).

“The proportion of female undergraduates in philosophy has been 50% or greater for decades, and people have been making your claim ever since. “

That is a possible scenario too. That the more things are moving to a high level career, the more the balance shifts towards female discrimination, with stable equal, or even slightly female favouring balance at the lower level. Im rather confident this is not whats happening. An ever bigger flood of female undergraduates can destroy such an equilibrium just like general societal change. On an institutional level, structures are built up to avoid female discrimination that are not mirrored by institutions to avoid male discrimination – which im afraid will ultimately lead to male discrimination.

Ive just looked up the agregate all subject data for Germany. At first i figured i most have gotten something very wrong. We still have overall somewhat more male students, significantly more male Ph.D. students (55%*), somewhat more male first year students. The catch is, we have more female graduates anyway. The shift towards far higher female grammar school graduation rates (also from a start with a far higher male share) is feeding through slowly. It just takes time until it arrives at the highest level.

On an indivddual subject level stereotypes are intact. Econ/business adminstration just is not an extreme male stereotype subject and those tradtional somewhat more male subjects have shifted towards higher female shares. My second problem here is that no one talks about what an uter disaster it is that there are no male social workers, while everyone cries about a lack of female engineers (and builds institutions to increase female shares).

*Note the starting point in the 55+ age cohort is a 22% female share. So there too is a strong trend which im betting wont stop at 50%/50%.


Neil Levy 01.06.14 at 11:21 am

Ah yes, the great social threat of our time: anti-male bias. I really feel for you.

Did you know that anti-white racism is now worse than anti-black? I suppose you did.


Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 2:58 pm

If women just aren’t interested in becoming economists, or don’t have the talent for it , what the hell do you expect to do about it?


godoggo 01.06.14 at 3:08 pm

Yay! Hector’s back! Where’s Fostert?


sash 01.06.14 at 3:32 pm

neil, I’m not familiar with Hix’s previous posts, so your response may be appropriate. Nevertheless, there is a problem with a society in which men don’t become social workers, pre-school teachers etc. It doesn’t take anti-male bias for this to result. In fact, I expect just the opposite.


Neil Levy 01.06.14 at 3:43 pm

Sash, I agree. I agree both that there is a problem here and with what I take to be your diagnosis of why it is a problem. It is bad for women – and for men too – that low status professions and caring professions become associated with women. It reinforces stereotypes and gender norms. But Hix talks about “male discrimination” by which I take him to mean “discrimination against men” (if he doesn’t, then he means “discrimination against men” by “female discrimination” which he also talks about). It is on the basis of what he says *here* that I responded.


sash 01.06.14 at 3:59 pm


I take your point. ihadn’t read hix’s post that carefully.


mpowell 01.06.14 at 6:26 pm

I’m still trying to figure out whether alex’s post is meant to be taken seriously or not.


alex 01.07.14 at 12:40 am

I was kinda trolling, but unfortunately no one bit.

My point is that male disciplines tend to be very culturally and racially diverse. This is the elephant in the room when people talk about the gender balance of academic disciplines, because overseas students overwhelmingly tend to be men and there are huge difference in home vs overseas students across disciplines.

What are you going to do? John obviously looked around and thought ‘aren’t low numbers of women shameful, oh how we lag behind other disciplines’ rather that ‘aren’t we very culturally and racially diverse, isn’t literary studies awfully white’. But are disciplines like Letters with high ratios of women, which recruit almost entirely from the US, really more progessive? And I’d love more women, but can I really do much about who gets sent here from China or the Middle East, beside shutting the doors to applicants? There’s no easy answer to the question, either way.

In any case, I don’t think you can uncritically approach this subject with the idea that disciplines with high proportions of women are “better”.


John Quiggin 01.07.14 at 1:02 am

@Alex I’m Australian, so I have a bit of a different perspective, but in any case I was making a different point.

My department (Uni of Queensland) hires primarily from the pool of US-educated but non-US students, and has done so for quite a few years. As a result, we are about as ethnically diverse as you can possibly get – our hiring team this year was Spanish-Turkish-Japanese, and that was a fairly good match with the candidates. US econ departments look to me like cultural studies looks to you, overwhelmingly white, since US candidates almost invariably want to stay at home, and are preferred by the US domestic market on grounds such as English fluency. Except at the full professor level, I’d say we are also have rather more women than the average US department.

My point though, wasn’t under-representation of women in the profession: it was that, relative to the profession, men were overrepresented in the exciting aspects of the meeting, like the audience for high-powered panels on core topics, while women were somewhere else (not attending, interviewing job candidates, in gender-focused sessions).


hix 01.07.14 at 10:35 am

How come foreign students are all male (nope its not because all those other nations arround the world have such backwoods gender relations that need to be enlighted, in that case, the same would be true outside the anglosphere). Only rich oil sheikhs who wont let their daughters leave home can afford anglo saxon Universities?

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