By Genevieve Hack, BSc Development Economics and Sarah Bennani, BSc Economics
In a world that has achieved space travel and self-driving cars, it seems that closing the gender gap in the field of economics is an impossible mission. Women and girls across economics, banking, finance, and other male-dominated fields face a perpetual struggle against the gendered bias of the ‘Invisible Hand’. Women are confronted with these prejudices not only in the corporate world but also in classroom settings, making recognition of our achievements a little bit harder but a lot more vital.
From determining the elasticity of demand for pizza delivery at 2 AM to debating the utility of a spontaneous road trip, we turn economic theories into a laughing matter (Keynes is probably rolling in his grave as you read this). Like the iconic women that have come before us, we have come to realise that the pearl headbands and bows were just decorations for the prized possessions that lay beneath them. Often, finding ourselves outnumbered in a classroom has just meant we have learned to command the attention of the sceptic gents with misplaced confidence that doubt us. According to the House of Commons Library, women currently make up only 37% of economics students. Female economics students contribute significantly to the diversity and dynamism of the academic landscape; by challenging traditional norms, they foster a richer exchange of ideas and perspectives.
The prospect of entering the corporate world is daunting for many; competition is fierce, and expectations are high. For women in economics, however, it can sometimes feel as though we are trying to enter a secret password society where the only requirement is a Y chromosome. According to research by the University of Cambridge in 2021, only 26% of economists working in UK academia are female, and only 15% of economics professors are women. This poses the question: do women hate economics, or does economics hate women? Entering the corporate world alone is the first hurdle, as even achieving a respectable position as a woman does not guarantee you an equal wage to your male counterparts. According to the ONS, the gender pay gap was 14.3% in 2023, yet higher earners exhibit a much larger gap. These male-dominated fields thrive off an ‘Old Boys Club’ so old it’s practically collecting a pension… Is it not time we made more space for other demographics? Rebecca Maher, who works at Metro Bank and has been in the industry for over two decades, speaks of the setbacks experienced when navigating pregnancies, failed pregnancies, raising young families, menopause, and other health concerns. Maher says these issues make the industry “unattractive to the new generation of women, which then perpetuates the male-led agenda.”
Despite the ground-breaking display of male privilege, women are still successfully gaining more space within the discipline. In October 2023, Claudia Goldin won the Nobel Prize in Economics for uncovering the reasons for gender gaps in labour force participation and earnings. The success stories in this field pave the way for aspiring female economists. Navigating gender inequality is never an easy feat, and it is imperative that we recognise the challenges unique to the field and actively work to overcome them.
May we raise a glass and shatter a ceiling for the iconic women who have come before us and the ones who will follow… bottoms up!
Photo Caption: Nobel Prize winner Claudia Goldin Headshot (Photo Credit: Editing1088)