The literature recommended in response to John Harvey's query is great and I agree with the premise that John suggests: neoclassical theory is a major stumbling block to efforts to attract more women and minority students
to the study of Economics.
Let me suggest two more reasons that are hard to test but worthy of thinking about. A lot of the basic processes that are the stuff of introductory texts, getting a loan, buying a car, etc. are things that young males think they know all about even if they don't. Young women on the other hand are inclined to think that they don't know about these things even if they do. Economic interactions are still so gendered in our society that the playing field is not level from the get go for young women.
A second reason and one that I have become acutely aware of as I have used the luxury of retirement to attend seminars and paper presentations in a number of different disciplines, is that the "disciplinary style" of economics is not attractive to a lot of female students. Economists, and especially those who are presented as being successful, are typically aggressive in making presentations, assertive in their arguments, and present with an air of authority that even they may not be sure is justified. But that is the style. I have been amazed to learn that the scholarly interactions that takes place in other disciplines, including some in the humanities, some in the social sciences, and some in the hard sciences, are done in very different styles. This is something that needs to be thought about.
That said, I do agree with John that the faith that the neoclasscial model is the only truth is the major stumbling block. I don't remember who did the study a few years ago that documented that relatively more women earned advanced degrees back in the 1920s (in the U.S.) than have done so in more recent decades. Economics was a more open social science then and less Talmudic.
On this very point, I recommend two oldies but goodies from Susan Feiner and Bruce Roberts:
· “Hidden by the Invisible Hand: Neoclassical Economic Theory and the Textbook Treatment of Race and Gender,” Gender and Society, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 159-181
· “Using Alternative Paradigms to Teach About Race and Gender: A Critical Thinking Approach to Introductory Economics,” American Economic Review, Vol. 85, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 367-371
Both are attached.
I’m grateful for your efforts at beloved TCU, where a 63% female undergraduate population should enable us to recruit more than the 15-20% females we’ve had in ECON for a decade (making us the second-most “male” major on campus, second only to Ranch Management).
From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
On Behalf Of Harvey, John T. [log in to unmask]
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2018 12:01 PM
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Subject: [AFEEMAIL] Why don't women major in econ?
Dear AFEE Friends,
I have been working on an initiative to increase the representation of women and minorities in our program (we run at or near the bottom on campus). As we all know, this is a pervasive problem not limited to TCU by any means.
As I dig into this, I find literature that refers to the greater sensitivity of women to intro econ grades, the desire for clearer career options by women, the lack of role models in our discipline, etc. What I haven't seen is anyone saying that our core problem is Neoclassical theory. Surely someone has done so? It seems to me that if I’m a member of a minority or a woman (or both) and I hear from my mainstream intro econ instructor that the market objectively determines what I deserve to earn, I’m done with econ. Sure, they’ll tack on a dummy variable or mention “frictions” or “imperfections,” but that’s clearly not the core theory and the latter will not strike me as a relevant to my experiences. On the other hand, if I’m a white male–particularly one with a bit of a chip on my shoulder–then this is what I’ve been looking for. Sorry I get paid more, but I deserve it!
My own informal survey work has looked at women who decided to pick econ anyway (our alumni), so this was clearly not a problem for them. But it is my sense that this is the real reason women stay away from us is Neoclassicism.
What say you all? Does that ring true or am I missing something?