The Gender Imbalance in UK Economics: Royal Economic Society Women’s Committee Silver Anniversary Report

13 Jul 2021

The Gender Imbalance in UK Economics: Royal Economic Society, Silver Anniversary Women’s Committee Report

Authors: Victoria Bateman, Danula Kankanam Gamage, Xianyue Liu and Erin Hengel

The economy affects everyone, and even the most intimate decisions we make in our daily lives feed in to affect that economy, but those studying and researching the economy are unrepresentative of wider society. Among academic economists at UK universities, only a quarter (26%) are women, while amongst economics students there are twice as many men as there are women.

Without the differing experiences and ideas that a diverse community of economists can offer, economics is limited in terms of its ability to deal with the real-world problems that people face. New research published by the Royal Economic Society highlights a lack of women’s representation within UK economics departments from the undergraduate level through to the professorship:

* Amongst economics students from the UK, women represent 27% of undergraduates, 31% of master’s students and 32% of PhD students in economics. Women’s representation amongst foreign economics students in the UK is higher, boosting the overall female proportions to 32%, 52% and 39% respectively.

* Amongst academic economists in the UK, women comprise 33% of lecturers, 27% of senior lecturers/readers and 15% of professors.

* Notably, according to our data, no Black female professor of economics was employed anywhere in the UK for the entire period from 2012-2018/9 (which is when our data ends).

While the research identifies areas of improvement over the last quarter of a century, it also finds that progress in closing the gender gap has begun to stall:

* The proportion of the academic workforce that is female has expanded from less than 18% in 1996 to 26% in 2018/9.

* However, much of this improvement was achieved before 2012, since which time progress has slowed.

* The proportion of economics professors who are female has increased by only two percentage points since 2012 (from 13% to 15%).

Worryingly, and in important respects, economics appears to be moving backwards:

* Amongst students from the UK, the proportion of economics undergraduates who are women has fallen from 31% in 2002 to 27% in 2018/9, and, at the master’s level, the proportion has fallen from 37% in 2002 to 31% in 2018/9.

* The percentage of economics professors with Asian ethnicity who are women has recently been on the decline (from 22% in 2012 to 16% in 2018/9), along with the proportion of Black lecturers who are women (from 26% in 2015 to 17% in 2018/9).

Dr Victoria Bateman, Fellow in Economics, Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge, and co-author of the Report, said, “The economy affects everyone; economics needs to represent us all. While there have been noticeable improvements over the last quarter of a century, our evidence of stagnation and retreat shows that the gender gap isn’t about to close anytime soon – and, if anything, is set to get worse.”

Dr Erin Hengel, Economist and co-author of the Report commented, “Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do to increase the representation of women in economics in the UK.”

The President of the RES, Tim Besley commented, “The Royal Economic Society is committed to increasing diversity in the economics profession and is immensely grateful to the authors of this report for their efforts which lay bare the huge challenges that we face in realizing this ambition.  It is essential to take the findings on board and to consider how best to respond to them with concrete actions.”

RES will be hosting a webinar on 6 October 2021 (17.15 – 18.30) to continue the much-needed discussion, provide an opportunity for knowledge exchange between academia and policymaking and for two-way engagement within the academic profession itself. Chaired by Professor Sir Tim Besley, the President of the RES, the event will feature a short summary of the report's findings along with a panel of four speakers.  To sign up to the webinar please sign up here: The Gender Imbalance in UK Economics (res.org.uk)

RES Report by The Women’s Committee; The Gender Balance in UK Economics can be read in full here along with an executive summary, a six-minute video summary https://youtu.be/rUUOE_3m5WE and two-minute video summary https://youtu.be/ySR_x2LHsfs

Previous reports by the Women’s Committee (the last one being from 2016/7) can be accessed here: https://www.res.org.uk/committees/women-s-committee/status-of-women-in-economics-survey.html