I am intrigued by the conversation in which John Whitehead is participating that takes on the question in the title to this post (and I’m very grateful for his saying that I’m one of his favorite bloggers, thank you!!!). Background: Matthew Kahn looks at REPEC data to see that in economists ranked in the top 5%, none of the women blog, but 7% of the men do. Interesting, but I’m not sure why he thinks that “excellence” in publishing academic research papers will correlate to being a good, effective public communicator of economic ideas, logic, and analyses (although I should give a shout out here to my thoughtful and eclectic colleague Jeff Ely, who is certainly one of those “excellent” economists and blogs intriguingly at Cheep Talk).
Diane Lim Rogers (EconomistMom) takes issue with his use of REPEC ranking as denoting “excellence” as a professional economist, and her entire post is well worth reading and considering. In particular,
I think we female economists have our own empirical (not just theoretical) reasons why those of us who blog aren’t the same people as those of us who are at the top of the REPEC list. In my case, it’s also closely related to why those of us (even non-excellent female economists) who blog don’t typically blog at the same frequency as the (even most excellent) male economists who blog. It’s called we have and care about other things and people in our lives, not just our own individual, introspective views about how the supposed world around us supposedly works (in our own opinion)! And that’s even things and people other than what Matthew counts so endearingly as the “home production” sort of things–you know, “cooking and rearing children.”
I think there’s something to that. I don’t have children, and in the KP household “home production” is split pretty evenly. But the KP Spouse and I are passionate about our hobbies, and I find that a lot of my mental (and physical!) bandwidth goes to cycling, triathlon training, knitting, drumming … and yes, cooking, so perhaps there’s some home production argument there, but it’s hobby cooking rather than spending time getting a healthy meal together for a family with kids.
So perhaps it’s not just the division of labor in the household, but perhaps there’s a gender difference in terms of breadth and variety of interests, and interest in focusing intently on one thing or very few things. I spend a lot of time and energy on things that I don’t think would be interesting to KP readers; in fact, back in 2005 I distinctly remember posting a few times about cycling, running, triathlon race results, and I got an email from a reader basically saying that I should stick to economics because he wasn’t interested in reading about my sports. Fair enough. But with RSS readers, it’s easy to skip those. Still, I’ve really backed off writing here about the non-economics topics that captivate me.
Which brings up another hypothesis tangentially related to the one that Diane offered: perhaps women are more “self-censoring” than men. After receiving that feedback, I really dialed in my self-censoring, asking myself every time I read something or thought about posting something “do I have something original to add to the conversation, to economic knowledge, on this item?” Frankly, a lot of the time over the past couple of years my answer to that question has been NO, not that I’m judging myself as a non-“excellent” economist because of that. So much of the online conversation over the past couple of years has dealt with macro, finance, monetary policy, all of which are topics in which I profess no special expertise. Does that filtering and self-censoring kick in more readily for women than men? Perhaps. In my case it’s because my time is so scarce and has such a high opportunity cost — if I’m just going to write something in which I blather on a topic about which I have little expertise, I’d rather spend that time on my bike.
Jodi Beggs also weighs in, pointing out that a lot of economics blogging quickly becomes argumentative. I agree with Jodi; I have no interest in an interaction that will quickly devolve into a spitting match, and I have no interest in writing posts solely to demonstrate to the world my purported intellectual superiority. Yes, I do think some subset of blogging, not just in economics, is jockeying, positioning, and preening, the modern educated man’s equivalent of the gorilla beating his chest, often devolving into ad hominem attacks and bullying. I have no time or patience for that; I prefer (greatly) what in the 18th century might have been called civil discourse. That is why you will NEVER see me link to Brad DeLong or try to engage him in an interchange. NEVER. Emphatically.
Honestly, I’ve never given gender much thought, let alone gender and economics blogging. Until this morning I never gave much thought to the gender of the folks in my economics RSS feed. I’m used to being the only woman in class, in a seminar, on a bike group ride. I just do what I love. Does it really matter that fewer women economists blog?