The Underrepresentation of Women in Economics: A Study of Undergraduate Economics Students

29 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2000 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Karen E. Dynan

Karen E. Dynan

Harvard University; Peterson Institute for International Economics

Cecilia E. Rouse

Princeton University - Industrial Relations Section; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 1995

Abstract

Although women are underrepresented in the field of economics, many see little need for intervention, arguing that women are inherently less interested in economics, or are less willing or able to get the math skills skills needed to do well in the subject. At the same time, others support active efforts to increase the number of women in the field, citing other possible causes of their current underrepresentation. These people argue, for example, that women are deterred from entering the field because of a lack of female role models, or that women are discouraged by an unappealing classroom environment. This study assesses these hypotheses by examining factors that influence undergraduate students' decisions to become economics majors using a survey of students in the introductory economics course at Harvard University as well as data on an entire class of students from Harvard's registrar. We find that although women in the introductory economics course at Harvard tend to begin the course with a weaker math background than men, math background does not explain much of the gender difference in students' decisions about majoring in economics. The class environment and the presence or absence of role models also do not explain much of the gender gap. On the other hand, women do less well in economics relative to other courses than men do, and controlling for this difference in relative performance significantly diminishes the estimated gender gap. An economically large but statistically insignificant difference between sexes in the probability of majoring in economics remains, however, which may be due to differing tastes or information about the nature of economics.

Suggested Citation

Dynan, Karen E. and Rouse, Cecilia E., The Underrepresentation of Women in Economics: A Study of Undergraduate Economics Students (October 1995). NBER Working Paper No. w5299. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=225363

Karen E. Dynan

Harvard University ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Peterson Institute for International Economics ( email )

1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://piie.com/experts/senior-research-staff/karen-dynan

Cecilia E. Rouse (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Industrial Relations Section ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-2098
United States
609-258-4042 (Phone)
609-258-2907 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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