Economists routinely get away with saying things that would be considered outrageously misogynist in other contexts. Is economics the worst academic field for women? Stony Brook University finance professor Noah Smith has an article on Bloomberg today laying out the evidence.

The article is a well-considered discussion of the kinds of sexism that are fairly typical among economists — but it may seem extreme to some readers.

Advertisement

Smith cites this 2011 blog post by George Mason University economist Robin Hanson, where "Hanson writes that 'gentle, silent rape' of a woman by a man causes less harm than a wife cuckolding her husband":

I [am puzzled] over why our law punishes rape far more than cuckoldry...[M]ost men would rather be raped than cuckolded...Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret...Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape.

And there's also what Smith calls "a similar post," written in 2013 by University of Rochester economist Steve Landsburg:

Let's suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm — no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission...Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?

Students protested Landsburg's post, eliciting an apology from the professor, who claimed that what seemed like an endorsement of rape was actually the opposite.

Advertisement

Smith says that Hanson and Landsburg's comments are typical in the field of economics, where women suffer measurable discrimination in terms of job appointments — but also, where many men feel free to express sexist opinions that would not be permitted in other fields:

According to a new paper by economists Donna Ginther and Shulamit Kahn and psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams, sexism in econ is much more severe than in the sciences ... just observe the pattern of unabashed sexism by economists in the public sphere. It was Larry Summers — an economist, not a biologist — who got up in front of the Harvard faculty and other academics in 2005 and suggested that women's scientific abilities might be genetically inferior to men's at the high end of the distribution (an argument that Ginther and Kahn's paper actually addresses).

Why is sexism still so rampant in economics, while other fields are slowly attempting to achieve gender parity in their ranks?

Advertisement

Smith thinks there is no one good answer, but suggests that it may be that economics attracts smart conservatives, who couple fiscal conservatism with social conservatism. Another possibility is that economists are encouraged to tell "difficult truths," which can be misunderstood to mean that they should make lots of controversial claims in the hope that one will turn out to be true.

You can read more at Bloomberg.