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October 4, 2012

Research Shows Women Economists View Economic Policy Differently than Men

Economists have surveyed themselves a lot over the years about economic policy. What they had not examined were the differences in the views of male and female economists on policy issues.

Dr. Ann Mari May, professor of economics, and Dr. Mary McGarvey, associate professor of economics at the UNL College of Business Administration, along with their colleague Dr. Robert Whaples of Wake Forest University, thought it would be interesting to find out if there were any differences in the views of economists along the lines of gender. In doing so, they have garnered national attention in the Wall Street Journal, NBC News Today, and a recent lead article in the USA Today.

“It was an interesting question because it hadn’t been asked,” May said. “You have a profession that is in flux with more women entering the field. We thought it was a good time to take a snapshot and see if their views are the same or if they’re different than those of their male colleagues.”

Although the economists surveyed had no differences in their core beliefs on economic theory and methodology, they found striking differences in views on economic policy between female and male economists.

“The greatest difference of opinion was in equal opportunity and labor market,” McGarvey explained. “Women did not agree with studies that say that the gap between men and women’s pay is due to women’s choices and their qualifications, whereas men tended to agree with that statement.”

The same differences in attitudes between women and men were found when they were asked about opportunities in the job market. Female economists responded that there was not equal opportunity while men said that there was.

May also pointed out that many opinion poll surveys have already shown clear differences between men and women when it comes to voting preferences and party affiliation.

“We wanted to see if there was also a gender gap in terms of similarly trained professional economists,” May said. “Most of the public policy makers are men, and most of the professionals that advise on public policy are men. As women are entering the profession, we wanted to know if they share the same views on economic policy as their male counterparts.”

McGarvey noted that similarities do exist between female and male economists in terms of economic theory and methodology.

“Economists agree on the methodology and how to do the studies,” McGarvey added, “The difference is in what the government’s role should be when it comes to economic policy.”

According to their study, female economists were more likely to look favorably upon government playing a stronger role in economic decision making, and male economists were more likely to oppose government playing a more significant role.

The research team, which was made up of women and men, surveyed economists who had received their Ph.D.’s in the U.S. and were all members of the American Economic Association.

The five categories that were studied included 1) core economic precepts and methodology, 2) market solutions and government intervention, 3) government spending, taxing and redistribution of wealth, 4) the environment and 5) gender and equal opportunity. Among the study’s findings were, after controlling for decade the Ph.D. was received and the type of employment the economist is currently engaged in:

  • By 19 percentage points, women economists are more likely to disagree that the European Union has excessive government regulation of economic activity. They also are 21 percentage points more likely to disagree that the United States has an excessive amount of government regulation of economic activity.
  • Women are 32 percentage points more likely to agree with making the U.S. income distribution more equal than men.
  • Women are 30 percentage points more likely to agree that the U.S. should link import openness to the labor standards of its export partners.
  • Women are 31 percentage points more likely to agree that employers in the U.S. should be required to provide health insurance to their full-time employees.
  • Women are 42 percentage points more likely to disagree that job opportunities in the U.S. are currently equal for men and women.
The article by Ann Mari May, Mary G. McGarvey, and Robert Whaples entitled, “Are Disagreements Among Male and Female Economists Marginal at Best? A Survey of AEA Members and Their Views on Economics and Economic Policy,” is forthcoming in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy.