The strive for diversity in economics reaches the university class room

Measures to increase diversity, gender equality and inclusion have been widely discussed in many professional environments, in particular those that have had a strong record of male leadership and lacking diversity in the past. This ongoing discussion on diversity in business, politics and academia has now reached the economics profession, with increasing criticism concerning gender imbalances. According to the 2019 Women in Economic Index, women are greatly underrepresented when one looks at top positions in the field. This gender disparity becomes most striking among central bank governors, where only seven percent worldwide are women – zero percent among OECD countries.

The lack of diversity in economics is not only an issue of fairness, since views on economic policies and outcomes are not the same between male and female economists. Even when controlling for education level and type of employment, mixed groups show a higher level of creativity and productivity;  female underrepresentation hampers the ability of the profession to examine familiar problems through new perspectives. Widening the pool from which we source professional economists can enable us to better address modern challenges in increasingly innovative and creative ways.

An initial reaction

Organisations and universities are reacting to the increasing demand for diversity in economics. The European Central Bank recently launched the Women in Economics Scholarship to support female graduate students. The Bank offers a 10,000 EUR scholarship to five female economics students for a European master program in economics. In 2015, Harvard University launched the undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge, raising awareness of the underrepresentation of women in economics at the undergraduate level and actively recruiting female economics majors.

Conferences are another tool that academic institutions often employ to tackle gender imbalances. High profile events, such as the St. Louis Federal Reserve Women in Economics Symposium and the Stockholm School of Economics Female Economist of the Year award, highlight the work of female leaders and inspire the next generation of young economists.

Despite these developments, systemic reform also needs grassroots action. Students, young graduates and professionals are taking an active stance and sharing their concerns as to the current state of gender imbalances in economics. Recently, several universities have seen young economists taking actions to work towards a more inclusive future of their profession, including the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE) and the Paris School of Economics (PSE).

Paris School of Economics

In April 2018, the Women in Economics conference was held at the PSE in order to discuss the experience and representation of women in economic academia, industries and institutions. Following an applied agenda, the PSE conference touched upon the existence of implicit bias and discrimination, behavioural self-censorship and self-segregation, work-life balance, and best practices towards fostering a more gender equal PSE.

Among the panellists were: Hippolyte d’Albis (Professor at PSE), Béatrice Boulu-Reshef (Associate Professor at Centre d’Economie de la Sorbone), Thomas Breda (Associate member PSE) and Hélène Périvier (Economist at the Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économiques). Hippolyte’s research looks at international migration, intergenerational transfers, ageing, annuity markets, health and housing. Béatrice is an expert in the study of decision making in organisational and market settings, with a particular focus on resource allocation behaviour. Thoma investigates employment relations, taxation and gender inequality. Hélène’s research focuses on social and family policy, and she is currently evaluating the parental leave reform effects on the behaviour of fathers and mothers in France, and on measuring gender discrimination bias in recruitment selection processes.

Credit: BGSE

Barcelona Graduate School of Economics

In May 2019, graduate students Analía García and Lorena Franco held a two day seminar to highlight the work of women economists. The seminar consisted of talks by PhD students and faculty members on their ongoing work. Student presenters at the seminar included Marta Morazzoni, Marta Santamaría and Alina Velias, who each presented their ongoing work on family dynamics in Macroeconomics, infrastructure reshaping and commitment issues under biased expectations

In addition to the student papers, four BGSE professors presented their work:

Rosemarie Nagel specialises in experimental economics and situations of risk, coordination and competition. She presented her current research project: ‘Regularities in the Lab, Brain, and Field: A Cognitive Reasoning Model’. Overall, Rosemarie’s work highlights the dynamic interaction between behavioural and macro-economics. The use of experimental tools to tackle macro questions is a field of rising prominence, with policy-making institutions such as the Central Bank of England and the UK government expressing an active interest.

Enriqueta Aragonés, who has devoted her research primarily to the study of the strategic interactions among the various agents involved in elections, presented her work on multi-level government stability, titled Stability of Multi-level Governments’.

Rosa Ferrer presented two papers; Consumers’ Costly Responses to Product-Harm Crises’ and ‘Gender Gaps in Performance: Evidence from Young Lawyers’. Rosa uses empirical and applied theory to analyse social and legal problems. In addition to consumer regulation and gender differences among highly-skilled individuals, her work has touched upon high litigation expenses, optimal aggregation of preferences according to ideals of justice, and congestion in law enforcement.

Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell, presented her recent work on individual behaviour and sustainable consumption: ‘Relative Deprivation in Tanzania’. This publication uses econometric analysis of subjective measures as a proxy for studying welfare and well-being.


An environment of change

Above and beyond concerns regarding fairness, a lack of gender diversity and inclusiveness entails the risk to provide a barrier to growth and excellence in economic research and its application. This alone, we view as an impetus for change. Reform will not come overnight. Yet grassroots mobilisation amongst students and young economists can expedite structural change by supporting institutional initiatives. Fostering diversity through raising awareness, developing mentoring networks and collaborative platforms can bolster momentum and cultivate an environment accommodative to change.


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