This is 8 March, International Women’s Day 2018. Rethinking Economics is an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom.
By Rowan Mataram, Head of Campaigns, Rethinking Economics
Over the past year we have seen huge amounts of traction on women’s issue campaigns, with the hashtags #metoo and #timesup going viral, the world finally seems ready to make women’s issues mainstream. With reference to these campaigns and the huge amounts of progress that still need to be made, International Women’s Day is calling for all to #PushForProgress, which is exactly what we at Rethinking Economics are hoping to do with our #MoreWomenInEcon campaign. As the title suggests, we are using International Women’s Day to launch our initiative to push governments and universities to do more for diversity and get more women into their student bodies.
Across universities, student cohorts are becoming much more representative of all persons in society, yet when looking specifically at economics as a discipline, this trend falters. In 2000 only 30% of the students studying economics at university were women, this figure has now dropped to 26%. The same study also indicated that the figures were similar for BAME students.
For many people, this is simply not an issue. Perhaps women are just doing other subjects that they are better suited to. Perhaps men are simply better suited to economics. We at Rethinking Economics disagree.
In a country that no longer trusts the experts and in which inequality is on the rise, we have to address the fact that thousands of people all over the country are feeling disenfranchised by this economic system. One of the leading causes of this, economic policies that do not serve or represent the vast majority of people.
The lack of women represented in economics means female voices and experiences aren’t heard. This creates an unintentional gender bias in our economic models and policy which in turn leads to outcomes which affect men and women differently. To pick one example, investments in physical infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Cross Rail (which largely employ men in the construction industry) are deemed investment priorities. At the same time, our social infrastructure (which largely employs women in the care sector) is seen as a drain on public finances. This framing of social infrastructure has led to rising social care and NHS crises. Investing in both physical and social infrastructure can increase GDP and boost productivity, but by continually valuing one over the other, policy is implicitly valuing the work of one gender more highly.
This problem is one that is felt acutely by the members of Rethinking Economics and our supporters. Ours is an organisation that believes that the ability to create an economic system that works for everyone, starts by creating a curriculum that provides economics students with the skills and tools to deal with the problems of the 21st century. Yet if we do not diversify the people practicing economics, then we will have the same, age-old problem, that our economic policies do not represent the people that they effect.
Whilst focusing on the issue of women in economics, it is integral that we also raise the issue of lack of diversity with regards to race and class. For the very same reason, that we cannot have an economics that represents all, until we diversify the people who are practicing it.
Our #MoreWomenInEcon campaign is being supported by our 53 groups across 22 countries, with support from leading economic organisations such as the Bank of England and key economists such as Diane Coyle, Wendy Carlin and Kate Raworth. All over the world there is recognition that we need to do more to address under-representation of various groups in economics degrees, and the negative effects of this, now it is time to take action.