SEX DISCRIMINATION IN THE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT? 

 

To the best of my knowledge, the UWO economics department has hired only one woman on a tenure track appointment in the past 21 years. There are presently no tenure-track or tenured women in the department.

Meanwhile, throughout the economics profession in North America, the percentage of new PhDs awarded to women rose from about 10% in 1974 to nearly 25% in 1989 [American Economic Review, May, 1991, 410]. During this same period, the percentage of women employed as assistant professors of economics at top-ranked universities increased from 7% to 16%, and it rose from 10% to 20% in lower-ranked universities. At Western the percentage was zero in 1974 and is zero again in 1991.

Our hirings have been so out of line with the changes throughout the economics profession that the question of sex discrimination is unavoidable. I asked some colleagues in the department why we have hired so few women. Here are their responses:

1. We have tried to hire women. We interview a much larger percentage of women applicants than men. There aren't many, though, and most of them have not been good enough for us. The evidence supports at least part of this explanation: during the past two years, we have indeed interviewed a larger fraction of the women applicants. Data for earlier years are not available. But this explanation is called into question by the large percentage of women hired at other universities. Other schools of all ranks have found women applicants who are good enough for them; it is surprising that our department has not, especially since nearly a quarter of all new Ph.D.s in economics are women. And even if there is a dearth of Canadian women economists, the UWO economics department has long hired non-Canadians as well as Canadians; in 1991, more than half of our job offers went to non-Canadians.

2. We have made job offers to women, but they turn us down. The evidence for this response simply does not exist. Information provided by the current and previous chairs shows that no offers were made to women in the period 1985 to 1991; and data are not available for the years before 1985. Meanwhile, seven job offers were made to men in 1991 alone; and in 1990, four men were hired.

If this explanation is correct, however, one wonders why women turned us down in the years before we stopped offering them jobs.

a.We are outbid by U.S. schools who are forced, under affirmative action, to hire women. By itself this argument does not explain why other Canadian universities have hired women economists but we have not. In some instances, colleagues here have named specific women at other institutions, questioning whether we would want people like them working at UWO. But this response begs the issue: there are plenty of men here whom some of my colleagues would be delighted not to have around. Yet we have hired these men of questionable quality, and quite often at that. We don't seem to have made similar offers to women, though.

b.Because schools in the U.S. act as if they must hire women, the very best schools dip down so far into the pool of female applicants that they hire all those who would be qualified to work at UWO. Thus we can't get the ones we want, and we don't want the ones we can get. This argument seems implausible, though, since if it were true for all schools, it would mean that the lower ranked schools would be unable to hire any women when in fact they have hired more women than the top-ranked schools. This argument also implies that on average the women at any institution are identifiably of lower quality than the men there. Perhaps Professor Rushton would like to test this hypothesis, but I have seen no evidence of its validity. It also implies that since 25% of the new PhDs are women and only 16% of the assistant professors at top schools are women (and allegedly inferior to the men there), women PhDs in economics must typically be much worse economists than men. I find it difficult to accept this implication with no evidence to support it.

c. It is uncomfortable for women to be here. So long as the economists here propound complex and implausible explanations for our not having offered jobs to women in the past, their doing so will provide an indication that women might be less than welcome. As one colleague put it, "Women are too smart to come here — they know better than to walk into a place like this."

3. We would like to make job offers to women, but we know the good ones will reject our offers in favour of better-paying jobs at higher-ranking schools; and so we go after others (men) we think we have a better chance of hiring. This argument is questionable, given our history of actually hiring only a small percentage of the men to whom we make offers. None of the seven men to whom we made offers in 1991 accepted a job at Western; as usual, we consoled ourselves by noting that they took alternative offers from more highly ranked institutions. Yet this argument says we are not willing to make similar gambles, offering jobs to women who might not accept them. Since we have always been willing to make men job offers that might not be accepted, it is surprising that we appear to follow different hiring strategies for women.

To be fair to some of my colleagues, in the recent past we have interviewed a larger percentage of the women applicants than men. Furthermore, we have invited a larger percentage of the women applicants for on-campus follow-up interviews (though the numbers are too small to enable any conclusions).

But the fact remains that we still have no women here on tenure or tenure-track contracts; and unless we hire some (not just one) women soon, we may face serious legal and administrative constraints on our future hirings.

 

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