Where are the female economist bloggers?

Lynne Kiesling

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?

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13 thoughts on “Where are the female economist bloggers?

  1. “I have no time or patience for [jockeying, positioning, and preening, the modern educated man’s equivalent of the gorilla beating his chest, often devolving into ad hominem attacks and bullying] … That is why you will NEVER see me link to Brad DeLong or try to engage him in an interchange. NEVER. ”

    So your idea of not jockeying, bullying, engaging in ad hominem attacks, or trying to engage Brad DeLong in an interchange is to attack his character in a manner totally irrelevant to your main point?

  2. My apologies to you (and him) if you interpret it as such; I thought I was simply articulating what has become a fairly well-understood characteristic of the econ-blogosphere for quite some time.

  3. Nice non-apology apology.

    How is it possible to interpret what you said as anything other than implying, rather clumsily, that Brad DeLong is engaged in “the modern educated man’s equivalent of the gorilla beating his chest?” And why should we take your remonstrations with respect to civil discourse and ad hominem attacks seriously after the rhetorical whiplash embodied in your penultimate paragraph?

    What you are saying does not pass the smell test. And saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” after being called out is pretty poor, too.

  4. If by “consistent with my larger point” you mean “ironically illustrates that I do exactly the same thing I accuse others of doing, but don’t even realise it”, then yes.

  5. So, you’ve proved your point about spitting matches and ad hominem attacks by engaging in a spitting match and ad hominem attacks. Very commendable.

  6. One of the more irritating facets of online “debate” is the way that any privileged group will seek to turn discussion of inequality into a complaint about how badly they are oppressed. But that is, I think, inevitable given how effective victim politics is in such discussions.

    As to the main point, it matters if we want young women to feel that economics is a career they can hope to pursue with success (and without being incessantly bullied simply for being female). It also matters because economics is so often a major input to public policy, and if only men are seem to blog about economics that reinforces the idea that only men should have a say in politics.

    My own economics blog has been sadly neglected in favor of other things for a while. Must do something about that.

  7. BdL engages in ad-hominem. This is well-established (read his blog, but be prepared to do a ritual cleansing afterwards). It’s a fact of the world, and it’s a fact that buttresses Lynne’s argument. Thus it CANNOT be ad-hominem. Sheesh.

  8. Hoo-ray for dialogue on women and blogging/podcasting/app-store-entry/startups/policy/academe. I don’t even know where COLA was fudged to not see global inflation this year, though it is bound to matter whether nations still consult to keep things on medium-low.

    Let’s review the process in the previous century?
    -Make lim(floor(Fortune500))) in city bonds (See also; Jodi Beggs’ note, odd city rules requiring that you never e.g. visit a council session.)
    -Consult w/ city bond offers
    -Repeat, do research, or join (the equivalent of) GSA15 (GSA17 if impossibly foreign)
    -Teach some oblique business process class on the side
    -Turn 80; think of publishing
    -Read your 10 comers who make awesome takes on your thesis, taking it to interesting general application extents
    -Turn 89; publish general solution*
    -Turn 90; publish rebuttal to 8 comers who do not cite you yet which gets actual ink (or AdSense share, whatever it’s called now.)
    -Await translation to English, Malcolm Gladwell party props

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