They have a fair presence at the assistant professor level, but are poorly represented at higher positions and prestigious forums
Prof Esther Duflo, only the second woman to win the Nobel prize in Economics, talked about a ‘structural and fundamental problem in economics’ in her telephonic interview recorded just after the public announcement of her winning the prize. And the problem, she said, is that ‘there are not enough women in economics.’
Economics continues to be one of the most male-dominated disciplines. Lower share of women from the undergraduate level all the way up to faculty and research positions in prestigious institutions is a reality in American and European universities.
The barriers that hinder entry, survival and long-term success of women in economics include lack of role models, lower probability to receive tenure, higher standards set by journal referees, harsher evaluations by students, unwelcoming environment in seminar halls and online forums, and family commitments.
What does evidence from India suggest as far as presence of women in economics academia is concerned? In our ongoing work, we look at two dimensions of presence — what fraction of faculty members in economics are women; and what is the share of women’s participation in one of the most prestigious research conferences in India, namely, the Annual Conference on Growth and Development, held annually since 2004 at Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi.
Not good enough
Participating in prestigious conferences is an important aspect for professionals as it signals quality research, and provides opportunities for collaboration and networking.
The share of women among assistant professors is higher than at other levels, suggesting improvement over time. But the extent of improvement is not uniform across institutions.
Interestingly, institutions that are most sought after for Master’s programme in Economics have much higher share of women faculty at the assistant professor level relative to ‘elite’ institutions in the US and Europe.
But before we pat our backs, we must realise that the share of women in Master’s programmes in India, elite as well as non-elite, has been around 50 per cent for a while now. Then why don’t we see close to 50 per cent women faculty in Economics departments in Indian institutions?
Our analysis of the gender of the authors of the research papers presented at the annual ISI conference presents a more sobering picture. The share of females authors is close to only 30 per cent and has not changed much between 2004, the first year of the conference, and 2017.
Average number of male authors per paper presented in the conference across these years has been much higher than the number of female authors.
Papers with all females as the authors are few in number and constituted to just about 10 per cent or even lower in most of these years. So why do we see such a drop in female presence from the high levels seen in the Master’s programmes?
Are there hurdles unique to women when they attempt to opt for a Ph.D programme in India or abroad? Is this leakage due to women preferring corporate careers than academic careers? Do women find it more difficult to obtain a faculty position after completion of Ph.D? Do women find it difficult to continue to be an active researcher post marriage and child-birth?
Our informal interactions indicate that the time it takes to complete a Ph.D (typically four to six years) after Master’s sometimes act as a barrier since considerations such as marriage become more important in many cases. Among those who are employed in universities (and think-tanks), childcare responsibilities (disproportionately falling on them) affect collaborations, and/or attending academic conferences.
Further explorations of these issues and creative ways to help women overcome some of the structural barriers can go a long way in making economics a more inclusive, relevant and robust discipline.
Dongre and Singhal are faculty and research associate, respectively, at IIM-A. Das is a post-doctoral fellow, University of Pennsylvania. The views are personal