Economics is not a Boys Sport

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 31, 2011 12:09 pm

In order to tackle conservation, energy, funding, and many more critical issues we discuss, economics will be a large part of the solutions. Yet when we hear economists in the media, I often wonder why women aren’t generally quoted and interviewed. Further, where are the women who blog about it? Answer: They simply don’t exist. UCLA economist Matthew Kahn notes:

There are 52 women who rank in the top 1000 [members of the economics profession] and 0 of them blog.  Contrast that with the men.  Consider the top 100 men. In this elite subset; at least 8 of them blog.  Consider the men ranked between 101 and 200. At least, six of them blog.  So, this isn’t very scientific but we see a 7% participation rate for excellent male economists and a 0% participation rate for excellent women.    This differential looks statistically significant to me.

Kahn is curious about the reasons why and suggests that men may have more leisure time and “nerdy guys spend more time reading and writing blog posts.” Perhaps that’s part of it, but in recent years, the number of women science bloggers has exploded, despite family, teaching, and other obligations. We may not be as well represented when you account for all science blogs (or recognized as often), but our numbers are growing. Women tend to use these forums as tools to share ideas, collaborate, and facilitate discussions beyond the academic bubble where many of us reside. In fact, at ScienceOnline annual meetings, we outnumber our male colleagues. In other words, there must be more to the gender disparity in economics than time and nerdiness. (Although I am, admittedly, a nerd).

Another blogger theorized that women stay away from economics blogs because of their combative style, yet science blogs are not always a particularly friendly place either. (Any regular reader of The Intersection understands what I mean). The pissing contests that emerge do not seem to keep women from blogging. Further, even though comment threads tend to be male dominated, I receive many emails from women and kids, so it’s clear that they’re reading too.

What’s really going on? Here’s my suspicion: Rather than gender differences in attitudes, female economists are simply still not part of the economics blogging culture… yet. It’s not an activity that they consider because there are no predecessors already engaged. In other words, encouraging women to participate is more about changing social mores and cultural norms of what’s acceptable and rewarded within the economics profession. That can’t happen until women are better represented online. A bit of a chicken and egg problem, but I’m confident economics will catch up to science in this regard.

Why does this matter? Because pioneering women will bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. And Kahn is correct that it will also create more opportunities for them to get recognized in their profession. I applaud Kahn for highlighting the gender divide and challenge him and his colleagues to encourage more women to get engaged. If they have reservations, tell them to email me.

MORE ABOUT: economics

Comments (11)

  1. Baloney! The best econ blogger out there is a woman, Yves Smith who runs Naked Capitalism.
    See also her book, “ECONNED: How unenlightened self interest undermined democracy and corrupted capitalism.”

  2. That’s akin to the vanishingly small number (one?) of Nobel Prize winning women economists. Just like certain branches of science, economics was for a long time a male-dominated profession (just think about the almost all-male members of the Chicago School). Hopefully things will change with time.

  3. Eric the Leaf

    Ever read Stoneleigh (Nicole Foss)? She is expert in finance and energy (including nuclear safety) and blogs regularly on both.

    Also, check out her video in the series: “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” sponsored by The Nation:

  4. while I don’t agree with her all the time, I really like Lynne Kiesling at Knowledge Problem. I’ve read that blog for years. And she wrote about this too.

  5. Matt B.

    @ Jon Claerbout. Are you sure Yves Smith is a woman? Because “Yves” is a masculine name. The feminine is “Yvette”.

  6. Interesting question. When she appears on TV she looks and sounds like a woman to me. The name, however, may be a pseudonym.

  7. brandon

    Is it really that big of a secret? Women don’t take initiative on things. They figurehead consensus groups and respond to personal criticism by looking for approval or compatibility of rebellion. Anytime I read a woman’s book on anything, rest assured I’m going to find them quoting a bunch of people then doing a compare & contrast to see who becomes the expert. Instead of using independent principles that let you reason without having to pay attention to what various people think about an issue. I figure it has something to do with male genitalia following a process of growth, while female genitalia follows a process of stretching/expansion. If a man doesn’t learn how to thrust independently they’re going to have very little growth.

  8. Having followed both Intersection and Kahn’s Environmental and Urban Economics blogs for years, I find it easy to note how many fire away without reading. Economics has a system of ranking everything, even economists themselves. What Kahn wrote is that among the 1000 economists, there are 52 women and none of them blog. That does not exclude female bloggers on economics… just that none of them are ranked so high. Note also that there are only 52 women out of 1000. So it is rather an old boys school to begin with.

    As for the other comments, there seems always to be a Brandon in every group.

  9. Matt B.

    Well, I had to ask; there was nothing on Yves Smith’s website or in the book on Amazon that indicated. I’m guessing her parents just didn’t know “Yves” was masculine name. Or maybe they’re the type that likes men’s names on women. I’ve met people like that.

  10. brandon

    Stick your neck out and say something Wes


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


See More

Collapse bottom bar