Friday, 5 April 2013

Gender balance

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The recent 2013 Royal Economic Society conference, held at Royal Holloway University of London, included a special session organised by the Womens Committee called State of Play: Female Economists in Academia, Business and Government. Professor Karen Mumford of the University of York gave a presentation on the Relative Position of Female Economists in UK Academia, while Bronwyn Curtis from the Society of Business Economists led on Women in Business and Helen Carrier from the Government Equalities Office led on Women in the Government Economic Service. As I wasn't at the conference I can't report on what was said at these sessions, but I have had a look at some of Professor Mumford's papers and I will identify some key points from one of them later in this blog post.

There is also an interesting paper by some American economists (Hsieh, C-T el al), recently made available via the National Bureau of Economic Research, which I found via a story in the Wall Street Journal by David Wessel. The key point of the Hsieh et al paper is that a large part of the growth in productivity in the US economy between 1960 and 2008 can be linked to the removal of barriers that had previously blocked white women, and blacks of both genders, in the labour market. The authors go on to argue that although great progress has been made, there are still huge gender imbalances at the top level of industry and commerce. Only 14% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female. This is despite the fact that in 2011 more than 57% of bachelors degrees went to women, 51% of doctorates, 47% of law degrees and 45% of business Masters.

I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find similar relevant data for the UK. At the HEFCE website I found data on the number of male and female students in HEIs at different levels and in various subject area. Overall 56% of undergraduates are now female, and they form the majority in modern foreign languages (66.5%), Arts, humanities and social sciences (62.3%) and clinical subjects (59.3%). Males still dominate in engineering, computer science, mathematics and physics. [The detailed data can be found in Table 2.7 which is part of a downloadable Excel file].

I couldn't find a source for the number of women in CEO positions in the UK but this is where some of the Mumford research can help a bit. A paper that she wrote with Marie Drolet in 2010 looks at gender earnings differentials for private sector employees in Canada and Britain. In both countries men typically earn 26-28% more than women (measured by average hourly wages), although it varies a bit by age group which could be down to differences in educational attainment. Sure enough when a semi-logarithmic wage equation was estimated that controlled for factors such as educational attainment, age, marital status, ethnic group etc., the differential came down to about 14% in Britain and 16% in Canada. Given equal opportunities legislation which is in force in both countries this is still quite shocking.

I wondered if any analysis of the student body had been undertaken at USE and was pleased to find that in 2009 an Equality and Diversity Report had been produced. Here are some key findings. The number of male and female students at USE is roughly 50% for each gender, which proportions are pretty much the same in terms of applications. However for HEIs in the South East of England overall there are now more female students - they made up 59% of the student body in 2006-07.

What was interesting though was how the students performed. At USE a greater proportion of females progress to the next stage of study without referrals or trailing modules. A higher proportion of male students were excluded (two and a half times as many males as females), and a greater proportion of females obtained "good" degrees (First and Upper Seconds) as males. Employment prospects were better for females too. Twice the proportion of male graduates were unemployed as females.

I went back to the HEFCE web site to see if I could find out how many female Vice Chancellors there are. Alas, I couldn't get this information, I did notice that all the recent appointments listed there are males. Clearly there is some way to go yet before this glass ceiling is lifted.

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