On gender; research discipline and being the editor of an economics journal in the UK

In 1998 the Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee explored the gender composition of editorial boards for 25 journals where at least one of the editors was based in the UK. This exercise was repeated in 2003, 2011 and is updated here for 2016. The number of female managing editors or co-editors has risen slowly over time and is now in line with the proportion of females amongst professors. The number of women amongst the members of editorial boards is, however, far outstripped by the growth in the relative numbers of female readers/senior lecturers. We find little difference in the research areas of male and female academic economists, suggesting that there is a substantial pool of suitable women who could be asked to join these editorial boards. This report was prepared by Karen Mumford, University of York (Chair of the Women’s Committee).1 

In 1998, on behalf of the Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee, Katherine Green examined the gender composition of editorial boards for 25 journals where at least one of the editors was based in the UK for the Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee. This exercise was repeated in 2003 (by Denise Hawkes), in 2011 (by Annette Johnson), and in February 2016 (by Craig Fox) for the same list of 25 journals. During this time period, the numbers of editors on these journals increased dramatically: managing or co-editors rose 67 per cent (from 95 to 159) and other editorial board members rose 47 per cent (from 453 to 666). We would expect most (if not all) of this growth to have come from academic economists.

The academic workforce of economists in the UK has also changed dramatically since 1998 with women gradually improving their relative position over the time period. In aggregate, the changes are striking as women have more than doubled their relative representation in the higher grade ranks between 1998 and 2015 (see Figure 1 which uses data from the latest Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee survey). In 1998 women made up 11.2 per cent of the Readers/Senior Lecturers and 4 per cent of the Professors. By 2015, women constitute some 26.6 per cent of Readers/Senior Lecturers, and 13.5 per cent of Professors.

We expect managing editors (or co-editors) typically to be professors. If so, the above changes in the workforce might suggest relatively more women being recruited to editorial teams. Figure 2 shows that this is the case for managing editors (or co-editors); women’s representation as managing editors was commensurate with their representation as professors in 1998 and is again now. Although there were substantial gaps in the intervening years of 2003 and 2011.

It might also be argued that those involved in journal editing (in roles such as associate editors and other editorial board members) may be drawn from the ranks of readers/senior lecturers. Figure 2 reveals substantially stronger representation of women in this grade rank than in editorial boards, however, especially in 2016. Furthermore, this gap was apparent in 2011 and shows no decline over the last 5 years.

Many of the managing and associate editors of these journals are, of course, not UK based and the trends in UK academic employment may not be reflected in other countries. Whilst there is limited information available internationally on the growth of women in academic economics over this time period, the American Economic Association Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) has data in their latest report which shows similar growth rates for the US: in 1998 6 per cent of professors were female, in 2014 12 per cent were; 14 per cent of tenured associate professors were female in 1998, 23 per cent were in 2014.

Figure 3 shows the percentage of women amongst the editors (managing or editorial board) for each of the selected economics journals in 2016. As we can see, the representation of women is far from uniform across the journals: some half of these journals have a lower proportion of females in their editorial team than there are amongst UK professors; and only two journals have relatively more females than there amongst readers/senior lecturers. Perhaps this relative lack of females is influenced by the availability of suitably qualified women in specific research areas. However, many of these journals are considered to be general in nature (rather than being field journals) and have below the female representation we might expect to observe on editorial boards.

AE Applied Economics                                    AEL Applied Economics Letters
AFE Applied Financial Economics                   BER Bulletin of Economic Research
CJE Cambridge Journal of Economics             EJ Economic Journal
EM Economic Modelling                                   EP Economic Policy
E Economica                                                    EE Education Economics
FS Fiscal Studies                                             HE Health Economics
ITPF International Tax and Public Finance      JAE Journal of Applied Econometrics
JHE Journal of Health Economics                     JES Journal of Economic Surveys
JIE Journal of International Economics             JPE Journal of Public Economics
TMS The Manchester School                          OBES Oxford Bulletin of Economics & Statistics
OEP Oxford Economic Papers                         OREP Oxford Review of Economic Policy
RDE Review of Development Economics         RES Review of Economic Studies
SJPE Scottish Journal of Political Economy

Table 1 presents the main research discipline for economists in standard academic appointments (full or part-time) in UK (CHUDE) departments from the 2014/15 Womens Committee survey. Column 4 shows that the most popular research disciplines are unsurprisingly the core areas of Microeconomics (14 per cent of all staff); Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics (12.9 per cent); Mathematical and Quantitative Methods (12.3 per cent), and Financial Economics (11.7 per cent). These are also the research areas which are the most common amongst the Professors (see column 7), although the ordering is slightly different with more Professors working in Mathematical and Quantitative Methods (13.3 per cent); followed by Microeconomics (12.6 per cent); and then Macro and Monetary Economics (12.4 per cent) and Financial Economics (12.1 per cent).

The four core research disciplines are also the four most popular research areas for women (see column 6). There are some differences in the ordering between men and women, however, (as can be seen by comparing columns 5 and 6). Men and women both chose the most popular Microeconomics (14.2 per cent of the men and 13.3 cent of the women). The second most popular choice for both women and men differs: men favour Macroeconomics and Monetary Policy and women favour Financial Economics (at 13.9 per cent and 11.9 per cent, respectively). Women then opt for Macroeconomics and Monetary Policy (10 per cent) and men opt for Mathematical and Quantitative Methods (13 per cent). For their fourth choice women favour Mathematical and Quantitative Methods whilst men choose Financial Economics. In contrast to popular perception, Health, Education and Welfare is only the equal seventh most popular research discipline chosen for women, it is the tenth most popular choice for men. These findings suggest that research disciplines are broadly similar across the genders and that there is no obvious reason to believe there is a shortage of women amongst the research areas required for journal editorial boards.

So, to repeat the question we asked in our earlier editorial surveys, why aren’t there more women on journal editorial teams? In 1998 the Women’s Committee wrote to the managing editors of these 25 journals and asked them for their views. Whilst there was far from a single suggested explanation, two common responses were that there was a lack of women in the profession as a whole and/or in specific research areas; and that insufficient consideration was given to the selection of editorial teams (implying that networking and exposure were important). In 2003, those UK based female editors who had multiple editorial positions were contacted and asked for their thoughts. Again there was not a single explanation although networking and exposure were commonly cited as important, as most had been offered their positions by editors they already knew.

In a rapidly growing labour market, it is far from easy to who the new professors are. In response to this potential information problem, the Women’s Committee have for some six years constructed a list of the female professors in economics based in UK departments, including their area of research specialism. This list was emailed to the editorial team of the 25 journals (and many more others) in 2011, it also available on the Women’s Committee web pages (http://www.res.org.uk/society/women.asp). We would like to think that it has helped raise the number of female editors in the UK. Whilst many of the future editors and associate editors will, of course, not be UK based, this list at least highlights one potential recruitment source and may go a small way to rectifying the current imbalance. Whilst many of the future editors and associate editors will, of course, not be UK based, this list at least highlights one potential recruitment source and may go a small way to rectifying the current imbalance. We have emailed the list of female professors to these journal editors again in 2016 and are currently working on a similar list for readers and senior lecturers.


Marjorie McElrou (2014). The 2014 Report of the Commttee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. https://www.aeaweb.org/committees/cswep/annual_reports/

Mitka, Malgorzata, Mumford, Karen, and Sechel, Cristina (2015) The 10th Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee Survey: The Gender Balance of Academic Economics in the UK 2014. http://www.res.org.uk/view/publicationsWomensComm.html


1.Karen Mumford’s term as Chair of the Women’s Committee ends in April 2016, the chair elect is Professor Silvana Tenreyro (LSE). WComm@res.org.uk

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