The Gender Gap of Economics
By Bryan Caplan
Men think more like economists than women do. According to my calculations in “What Makes People Think Like Economists?,” (Journal of Law and Economics 44(2), October 2001, pp.395-426) being male has roughly 16% of the effect of a Ph.D. in economics. Now a fascinating article by Burgoon and Hiscox points to an explanation for this gender gap.
Admittedly, B&H’s immediate goal is only to explain why women are more protectionist than men:
[G]ender shows up as a strong, consistent predictor of trade policy preferences. Women are much more protectionist than men. And this is not simply a function of gender differences in the standard political-economy variables. One might guess, for instance, that on average women tend to have less education than men, and lower levels of skills, or that they tend to be over-represented in terms of their employment in import-competing industries (e.g., the textiles and apparel industries). But even controlling for individual differences in education and other measures of skills, and allowing for the effects of industry-of-employment, the gender gap in attitudes is substantial. By one prominent estimate, for instance, men are on average 7.4 percent more likely than women to support trade openness…
But B&H’s explanation has much broader implications than they realize. How so? When studying the gender gap on protectionism, they noticed two things:
B&H then put forward a simple explanation, though they admit their evidence is indirect: Four decades ago, only one econ student in ten was a women; now we’re up to one-in-three. Women disagree with economists about free trade because fewer women study economics.
Now notice: While B&H’s explicit aim is simply to explain the gender gap on protectionism, their mechanism would in fact generate the kind of across-the-board gender gap that I reported in the JLE. The upshot: If B&H are right, we could make the gender gap of economics disappear by increasing female enrollment in economics to parity for a couple generations.
I’d say it’s worth a try, and I’ll do my part: I’ve never refused to sign an add form, and I’m not about to start!