Uncovering the Gender Problem in Economic Sciences

Economics as a discipline, as a place and as a phenomenon has primarily been male-centric. As a discipline of the social sciences, economics is one can argue the most ‘masculine’ one. We have within this discipline, theories that aren’t necessarily gender-neutral and theorist who are mostly male. The problem still persists today in the 21st century, where only two women were awarded the Nobel Prizes in this field.

Now, in theory, so to speak the gender of the economist should not matter, since the theories and literature they produce may not have anything to do with gender. This is where our thoughts may be limiting. Human’s look at things, concepts and phenomenon with a set of biases. There is a perspective to their understanding, and the theories they thus produce may be ridden with a male bias.

A closer look at the economy as a marketplace would also show you a stark figure that women form a very small portion of the participants in the economy. A large portion of the women are virtually unseen in most markets where they are seen to dominate the unpaid labour sector. This brings us to the point of economics at its core, as a phenomenon, where comes the issue of the differential wage earnings of men and women. This goes to show that the gender problem exists in theory, participation and different economic outcomes as well, which further highlights the need for a gendered lens to economics. We will thus, look at this from a policy point of view, a discipline point of view as well as in terms of some of the barriers women may face.

Underrepresentation of Women in Economic Sciences

When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced its 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Esther Duflo became the youngest person and only the second woman to achieve this feat since 1969 when it was first awarded. Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win this award, ten years ago, in 2009. Duflo wants to inspire more women to take up Economics as a means for bringing about a change in the world. The very skewed representation of females in Economics is not just limited to the list of Nobel Laureates but pervades the discipline. Just like STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), women representation in Economics is very minor. Only one-third of doctoral candidates for Economics in the USA are women. Moreover, in a poll conducted by the American Economic Association, around 48 per cent of female respondents reported discrimination at work on the basis of sex.
Christine Lagarde, Janet Yellen and Gita Gopinath are one of the few female names which figure in a highly male-dominated world of economics. Representation of women in economics is as crucial for the development of the discipline itself as it is for the upliftment of women and society on the whole. Women tend to bring different perspectives to problem-solving. Their underrepresentation is denying the main objective of economics which is effective utilisation of scarce resources with alternative uses. It is high time that economics fraternity accepts the issue and addresses it to serve its intended purpose of enhancing human welfare.

Glass Ceiling and Glass Cliff

The glass ceiling is a metaphor used to describe the unseen barriers that women face in the workplace that prevent them from achieving a higher position beyond a point. In the realm of gender economics, this appears to be one among the prime issues being faced by women today, across the globe. The aspect of underrepresentation once again presents itself where despite holding qualification constant, we see that discrimination is a primary factor contributing to this phenomenon. According to a report by The Economist, in 2018, women still only constitute about 14 per cent of the top management roles.

A concept shared in tandem with the glass ceiling effect is that of the glass cliff. The idea behind this becomes even more interesting, where women are employed in top positions when the enterprise is going through a downfall or crisis. Therefore, the metaphor explains the pushing of women off the cliff when one chooses to employ them during these times.

Coined by British professors Michelle K. Ryan and Alexander Haslam of the University of Exeter, this phenomenon takes place typically to provide the stakeholders with a scapegoat for the failure or even to showcase token representation in the attempt of being perceived as a progressive company despite the failure. It hands the company with a win-win scenario while leaving the women still at the hands of some form of discrimination. One may think, that such a situation may not be as widespread, however, research by the same professors found that the women in top positions among the Fortune 1000 companies, were appointed post a five-month downfall.

Gender Budgeting

Any government policy has a different impact on men and women; simply because the needs of the two are different from each other. Both play different roles in society and there still exist stark differences in each of their income, education and health level. However, even after a countless number of projects dedicated to uplifting the status of women in society; their condition has not changed much. This happens due to the top-bottom policy approach which is mostly devised by men. Hence, the need for gender budgeting arises which gives a gender perspective to policy formulation, implementation and review. It is important for policymakers to understand that any cut in funds for welfare programmes have a more debilitating effect on women than on men.

Women face a triple whammy as they are the prime beneficiaries of these programmes, they earn and own lesser and they have to increase unpaid work. In India, it was only in 2001 that the term gender budgeting found a special mention in the then Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha’s budget speech. It was formally adopted in 2005, since when a separate note on Gender Budgeting; listing women-specific and pro-women schemes; is being circulated with the budget circular. Since then Gender Budgeting Cells have been set up at Union Government and many states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have adopted Gender Budgeting. Over the decade 2008-2020, gender budget was around 5.2 per cent of the total expenditure on an average. Whereas in 2019-2020, allocation to gender budget stood at 4.7 per cent.

Therefore, we can see there is an evident lacuna of women in economics and all the dimensions of it, further reinforcing a dire need to represent them. The underrepresentation of women in academia clearly limits the discipline in providing a more comprehensive view of the subject. Furthermore, this poses the dire need for representing the female perspective in policymaking and the working economy.

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