The Situationist

Archive for May 3rd, 2007

Women’s Situation in Economics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2007

Time 2005Several recent articles that all seem interestingly related to women in Economics are worth highlighting.

First, a story in The Observer this week summarized a study on the effect of feminine names:

Parents are being warned to think long and hard when choosing names for their babies as research has discovered that girls who are given very feminine names, such as Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study maths or physics after the age of 16, a remarkable study has found.

Both subjects, which are traditionally seen as predominantly male, are far more popular among girls with names such as Abigail, Lauren and Ashley, which have been judged as less feminine in a linguistic test. The effect is so strong that parents can set twin daughters off on completely different career paths simply by calling them Isabella and Alex, names at either end of the spectrum. A study of 1,000 pairs of sisters in the US found that Alex was twice as likely as her twin to take maths or science at a higher level.

pygmalion.jpgAccording to David Figlio, the economist who authored the study, the effect of names is largely the consequence of the expectations created by a name. This is old news, revealed in a new way. At least since Rosenthal & Jacobson’s famous 1968 study, described in their book, The Pygmalion in the Classroom, social psychologists (among others) have recognized the powerful effect of expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom. In that classic study, the act of labeling some students “bloomers” dramatically influenced their performance on I.Q. tests. What this more recent study suggests is that there is a labeling effect in our names. “Anna” just doesn’t say “math bloomer” the way that “Chris” does.

As if that story weren’t depressing enough, the online version had nestled within it the following advertisement (linking to here).



Apparently, the advertising department saw opportunity in the story on stereotypes. For any “Isabella” reading the article, some advice on keeping men will seem that much more valuable.

Fortunately, there has been some recent, promising news about women – even those with feminine names – achieving great things in Economics. As reported in the HarvardDr. Susan Athey Gazette this week:

The American Economic Association has announced [last week] that Susan Athey, professor of economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at Harvard University, is the 2007 recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal. Harvard Economist Susan Athey won the highly distinguished John Bates Clark Medal. Widely considered one of the most prestigious awards in the field of economics, the biannual award goes to an economist, under the age of 40, who has made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge. Athey is the first woman to receive the medal.

Additionally, the Rice Sallyport reports in its current issue some great news about the journal, Feminist Economics, which has been an important contributor to increased dr-strassmann.jpgawareness of gender bias in math- and science-related fields like Economics:

Since Feminist Economics was named the best new journal in 1997, it’s been obvious the publication fills a need—and does it well. A recent report of a jump in the journal’s citation rankings adds more proof.

Founded by Diana Strassmann, a Rice professor of the practice in humanities, the journal was ranked 35th—up from 135th last year—among 172 economics journals in the ISI Social Science Citation Index, the most prestigious index for scholarly social science journals. Among women’s studies journals, it placed third out of 27.

Congratulations to Dr. (Susan) Athey and Dr. (Diana) Strassmann! We can only hope that such trends will continue and that, eventually, “Emily” will have as good a shot at becoming a scientist, mathematician, or economist as “Alex” – and that neither will be focused on “Creating ATTRACTION So Intense He Never Leaves You.”

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