Women across Subfields in Economics: Relative Performance and Beliefs

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June 2018
Paper author(s): 
P. Beneito
J.E. Boscá
J. Ferri
M. García
Gender Economics

The relative scarcity of female students enrolling in economics has become entrenched over the last decade. We provide evidence of gender differences in performance and in preferences across subfields of the discipline and explore students’ beliefs about the profession and their opinions on different subjects. The areas where women stand out relative to men are those that seem to be least well known to our students. We work on three fronts. First, using web scraping and machine learning techniques, we document the relative presence of women across subfields in recent AEA annual meetings. Macroeconomics and finance register the greatest scarcity of women. Second, using administrative records for economics students in a large public university in Spain from 2010 to 2014, we find that women outperform men in microeconomics, while men outperform women in macroeconomics, more evidently in the upper tail of the grades distribution. Finally, data gathered through a self-statement survey given to economics majors reveal that (i) they hold a macroeconomics-biased view of the economics profession; (ii) they exhibit gender differences in their perceptions of the interest and difficulty inherent in different subfields (macro vs. microeconomics); and (iii) their interests and performance are influenced differently by their male and female peers in macro and microeconomics subjects. Taken together, these three pieces of evidence provide a plausible explanation as to why women are relatively less attracted than men to economics, and suggest lines of action to redress the imbalance.


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