Gender-blind economists

By Eric Crampton 22/04/2015 3

In a new audit study, male economists are the only ones who came out as gender-blind in hiring preferences.

The underrepresentation of women in academic science is typically attributed, both in scientific literature and in the media, to sexist hiring. Here we report five hiring experiments in which faculty evaluated hypothetical female and male applicants, using systematically varied profiles disguising identical scholarship, for assistant professorships in biology, engineering, economics, and psychology. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, men and women faculty members from all four fields preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles (single, married, divorced), with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference.Comparing different lifestyles revealed that women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers and that men preferred mothers who took parental leaves to mothers who did not. Our findings, supported by real-world academic hiring data, suggest advantages for women launching academic science careers.

Via @clairlemon

3 Responses to “Gender-blind economists”

  • Dr Zuleyka Zevallos and Dr Nicola Gaston, who are both much more knowledgeable on this topic than I am, have written about this research. Dr Zevallos has written a detailed critique of the study’s methods on Other Sociologist:

    Dr Gaston’s post on it can be found here:

    This study didn’t look at actual hiring practices. Although it did include a small (N=35) experiment involving CVs the vast majority of participants (over 500) instead “evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical female and male applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships who shared the same lifestyle (e.g., single without children, married with children)”.

    Essentially, this study used a context where it was clear that gender bias was being evaluated, and there were no perceived consequences for the choices as there would be in a real hiring situation. It’s easy to consciously show a preference for women in this context even if an unconscious bias for men exists, especially when you know it’s being evaluated and agree that discrimination against women is a problem in science, so seeing a preference toward women here wouldn’t necessarily indicate that they aren’t discriminated against. Other studies that more closely approximated real world hiring processes found bias in favour of male applicants, e.g.

    Male economists were the only group in this study who didn’t show a preference toward women. While not having any gender bias would certainly be great, considering the context here of every other group in the study showing a bias in favour of women, and the inconsistency of this with other findings that women are discriminated against in academic hiring practices, I’m not convinced male economists’ apparent lack of a preference here is necessarily a good thing.

    • I’d thought that individual survey respondents weren’t given identical descriptions with only changes in pronouns in order that the focus of the study might be a bit less obvious.

      If you’re right that the study was wrecked by participants inferring that they were being judged on their gender views in a low-consequence environment, I guess that tells us that economists like to be seen as gender neutral while others like to be seen as biased against men. I’m not as sure as you are that this speaks poorly of economists.

  • I’m not convinced this speaks poorly of economists either. I think it’s possible to make a case for interpretations in either direction, but because of the way the question was examined I don’t think reliable conclusions could be drawn for either case.