Attitudes about Women in Economics: New Research by a Rising Star

An important new study of online conversations among economists by Alice H. Wu quantifies “outright hostility toward women in parts of the economics profession,” reports Justin Wolfers of the New York Times. Wu reported the findings from her award-winning senior thesis research paper at the University of California, Berkeley. Her paper is prompting urgent conversations among leading economists around the country.

Wolfers notes that, while the underrepresentation of women in the economics departments of top universities is well known, claims about workplace culture as the culprit have been hard to measure. People are guarded about publicly revealing their attitudes toward female economists. Wu developed new uses of technology to reveal hidden misogyny.

How did she do it? Wolfers explains that Wu used technology to research computerized archives by mining “more than a million posts from an anonymous online message board frequented by many economists . . . [including] economics faculty members and graduate students.” She adopted machine learning techniques on her computer to identify whether the subject of each post was a man or a woman. She then applied machine learning techniques to identify the terms “most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.” The words pertaining to women included hotter, sexy, sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, etc. You get the idea. Wolfers notes that the terms most associated with discussions of men reveal “no similarly singular or hostile theme.” Many words associated with discussions about men are positive, such as goals, greatest, and Nobel.

Wolfers goes on to note that Janet Currie, a leading economist at Princeton, said Wu’s findings resonated because they’re “systematically quantifying something most female economists already know.” She went on to tell Wolfers that this analysis “speaks volumes about attitudes that persist in the dark corners of the profession.” These attitudes can create a subtle but hostile work environment for women.

Thank you, Alice H. Wu, for shining a light into the dark corners and opening a pathway to change. We need more young female economists like you to join the field.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on October 2, 2017.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer