Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where are the female economist bloggers?

My graduate school colleague Matt Kahn has created a bit of blogospheric excitement by wondering at the absence of female bloggers among the top 1000 economists as rated by RePec based on quantitative measures of scholarly impact. We use RePEc citation count measures as part of our annual review process at Michigan's economics department. Here is some reaction from Matt Yglesias and here is some from UM alum EconomistMom.

I was all set to write a humorous, teasing sort of post on the theme that "increased female economist blogging begins at home" when I discovered that Matt's life partner (and also wife!), my graduate school colleague Dora Costa, was not, as I had expected, a couple of hundred places above Matt (he is #681) in the Repec ratings but, instead, does not even make the top 1000 (she is #1045).

Let me first consider why my expectation about the relative places of Dora and Matt on the list turned out to be wrong. While the list does not adjust for years as a professional economist, that is not the issue here. As I recall, Matt started Chicago's doctoral program just a year or two after Dora (who started two years after I did). Nor is the difference due to quality of writing; I think even Matt would agree that Dora is the better writer, a not surprising fact given that she is in a subfield, namely economic history, that rewards good writing more than most. I think the difference has, instead, to do with the relative size of the subfields that they work in; subfield size is well known to influence citation counts. Matt works in environmental and urban economics, both hot and growing subfields, while Dora works in economic history, which is a fairly small subfield these days, and also a subfield that has trouble making its way into the top general journals. Because of this, even though Dora would widely be perceived as being in the very top group of economic historians, she ends up with a lower RePEc rating than Matt. That's my explanation anyway which, if nothing else, helps to illustrate the commonplace that quantitative performance metrics such as those provided by RePEc require careful interpretation.

The reactions to the post raise some issues in the economics of the household. EconomistMom makes some heavily gendered remarks about men being clueless and about the heavy burdens of caring for others borne by many women. I think one of the commenters on EconomistMom (someone called Will Sawin) sums up my own response to her post pretty well:
You’re right. Your chosen leisure activities are morally superior to my chosen leisure time activity. I’ll remember to stop thinking ultimately useless but enjoyable and fulfilling thoughts and start having more ultimately useless but enjoyable and fulfilling relationships with other people.
An economist, even an economist mom, should not be forgetting that children are a durable consumption good that people choose to consume, not some sort of exogenous cosmic cross that they are forced to drag through life.

Finally, one is left with the burning question: who among the top 1000 is EconomistMom's ex-husband who does not like blogs? Inquiring minds want to know!

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