Greater gender parity in economics suggests we should reform tenure systems

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, the set-up is that the tenure clock and child-bearing plans do not exactly mesh well.  Here is my primary recommendation:

Imagine a greater variety of academic jobs, in areas that are not always valued highly by peer review. They might include jobs devoted to producing policy work, to teaching, to producing materials for online education, and to bringing the lessons of academia to broader audiences, such as through blogs and opinion columns. Furthermore, “up or out” provisions could be weakened, so if an individual didn’t succeed on a research track, but excelled in other areas, employment could be continued with different achievement criteria…Schools could keep some tenured jobs while elevating the quality of these other options.

Here is an interlude:

For all the jawboning about limiting discrimination, without adding good jobs on a significant scale, academia won’t get very far in addressing its imbalances.

Here is the clincher:

I have been struck by the course of debate in the economics profession over the last week, as much (deserved) Twitter ire has been directed at one particular online economics forum with anonymous and frequently misogynistic postings. Such forums probably discourage and demoralize women in the economics profession. But the general consensus among the forum’s critics is that those anonymous posters are the “losers” of the profession, not the deans, departmental chairs and Nobel laureates.

In other words, leading economists have spent a whole week “punching down” at those who are not in charge. I’ve hardly seen any critical self-examination about how the leaders, and the incentives they have created and supported, might also be at fault.



"For all the jawboning about limiting discrimination, without adding good jobs on a significant scale, academia won’t get very far in addressing its imbalances"

Hmm, I reckon TC's onto something!

Substitute 'society' for academia, and how about that US$15/hour minimum wage?

"much (deserved) Twitter ire has been directed at one particular online economics forum with anonymous and frequently misogynistic postings"

For the un-Twittered, which one?

I'm guessing this one, which was mentioned here -

And the first comment to that post at Marginal Revolution was

'tomhynes August 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Right now, the top thread is: “Who is your favorite porn star?” with 45 posts and 883 views.'

Goodness, the horror! Consenting adults talking about pornography? Bring the women their smelling salts.

There is no horror, that is merely the observation of the first MR commenter after following Prof. Cowen's link to the site. It isn't as if anyone should be suddenly surprised today - it was never a secret to long time readers of this web site, after all.

Good news! Women watch porn, too.

That is not the top thread

You did notice that Prof. Cowen's cited post and the comment were from 2012, right? Long time readers of this web site were already introduced to Econ Job Market Rumors a half decade ago, and the first comment provides enough information to allow older readers to have made their own judgment back then.

'They might include jobs devoted to producing policy work'

So Senior Research Fellow Veronique de Rugy wants a taxpayer funded job after discovering that being at Mercatus is not the same as actually being at GMU?

'bringing the lessons of academia to broader audiences, such as through blogs and opinion columns'

The MOOC fad is truly over, isn't it? Though really, that is not a reason to mention academics putting up 5 minute youtube videos at taxpayer expense as a vision for that better future.

"In other words, leading economists have spent a whole week “punching down” at those who are not in charge."

Doesn't this describe discourse in 21st Century in general pretty well? E.g., Sundar Pichai vs. James Damore?

So, you have just discovered that economic freedom means that an employer always has more power than an employee? Welcome to 21st Century labor relations in the U.S.

Here's an academic job topic I've never seen quantified. When I look around at famous professors, I notice that an awful lot of them tend to be married to another professor at that university. In most cases, the married couple didn't meet at that university, but were hired jointly after they were wed as a package deal.

Here's the question: What % of the time is the less valuable hire the wife? 2/3rd? 4/5ths?

If so, wouldn't this suggest that faculties tend to employ a fair number of women who did better for themselves in the marriage market than in the scholarship market?

50% of female physics professors are married to other physicists. They refer to it as the "two-body problem."

Another problem with this is that, research-tenure track positions are few and college towns can be in very rural areas where there isn't a lot other professional work to do.

Tenure is toast.

I hope not! It's the only thing that will allow faculty members to disagree publicly with their more vehement students.

Best reason I've seen for tenure in a while. It used to protect you from administrators, now it's from the students. Actually, now from both, as the administrators are often as childish as the students.

"They might include jobs devoted to producing policy work, to teaching, to producing materials for online education, and to bringing the lessons of academia to broader audiences, such as through blogs and opinion columns."

Is there much evidence at all that this would help women?

Having lived through numerous technological revolutions in intellectual discourse, such as Usenet, email, WWW, email groups, blogging, Twitter, and Youtube, my general impression is that each one served largely to liberate previously overlooked men.

In general, men are more likely to want to grab the world by the lapels and say what's on their minds. In contrast, women tend to want to post selfies and pictures of their lunch.

Didn't Google just fire someone for saying exactly this?

"In general, men are more likely to..."

Exactly why is 'Greater Gender in Economics' assumed to be desirable or of any concern whatsoever?

What percentage of academic economists 'should' be women -- and just how does the economics profession rationally perform that calculation?

This focus on gender is, of course, standard leftist ideology... not economics. But leftist ideology now dominates economics in academia.

>In general, men are more likely to want to grab the world by the lapels and say what’s on their minds. In contrast, women tend to want to post selfies and pictures of their lunch.

if you're going to engage in such blatant idiotic misogyny, steve, can you at least have the decency to hide it behind some pseudoscientific argument like you do for your racism?

blatant idiotic misogyny,

The idiocy is to be found in the notion that observing women and reporting amusing things you see is tantamount to hating them.

and pictures of their lunch.

No, that's Rod Dreher. Real women put pictures of craft-stuff up on Pintarest.

That econjobrumors website is really personal, like Usenet used to be. Sample excerpt: "Okay, you're dealing with the standard nutty wife case. The only option that I see is that you get her treatment for her personality disorder. By how you describe it, it can actually be much worse than that if you are afraid of her hurting your children." - wow, TMI (Too Much Information).

"Such forums probably discourage and demoralize women in the economics profession"

As contrasted with men being told repeatedly that they are where they are due to privilege and not hard work, that everyone of them is a potential rapist etc.

Tenure should have been scrapped when retirement ages were scrapped.

In an American setting, tenure may only last to retirement, with the 'emeritus' framework fading over the years, even as professors live longer.

And retirement is connected directly to age, as all GMU professors are employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unfortunately, poking around both the current GMU Faculty Handbook and did not provide much information, but to my undoubtedly outdated understanding, though 'tenure' persists, one's full time state employment does not when past the age of retirement. Flexibility is possible - a retired faculty member can still teach classes (on an at will basis in terms of employment - that is, teaching one course this semester in no way provides a commitment on the part of GMU to hire you next semester). And of course, if the GMU Foundation is willing to provide office space and funds, any retired member of the GMU faculty can remain at GMU.

I'm sure that things are different today than my memory. Which is based on a couple of people, such as that of the retired chair of the English department, who was also a retired Navy officer. A man quite likely triple dipping in terms of his retirement benefits, back when that was not only legal, but a cherished goal of many members of the military.

Could not quickly find much information about how that worked 30 years ago, but this gives an idea of the framework in modern terms - 'One veteran on disability collected nearly $210,000 in benefits in 2013, while another earned more than $122,000 — nearly three times what his actual military pay would have been — according to a watchdog report being released Thursday that found tens of thousands of veterans are triple-dipping on disability.

Tens of thousands of veterans collect their military retirement pay and disability benefits from the Veterans Administration and disability checks from Social Security too, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. All told, nearly 60,000 triple dippers collected $3.5 billion in benefits.

The arrangement is legal, but it raises questions about the generosity of the American safety net system at a time when disability programs are already under severe financial stress.'

Professor Borjas at the Harvard economics department finds the misogyny "refreshing" because it "illustrate(s) a throwing off of the shackles of political correctness". That's also the explanation for Trump's popularity with the less educated class. Throwing off of the shackles of political correctness has become the go-to excuse for every kind of boorish behavior. Some men don't like to have women in the workplace, other than as assistants to the men. My explanation? The C word: competition. What self-respecting man wants to be upstaged by a woman! My profession, law, is much like that of a college professor: it's up or out. The six to eight year track to partnership is both grueling and dehumanizing, dehumanizing because it encourages less than humanist behavior toward one's colleagues. It's true that many young female lawyers drop out during this period of their careers, family (husband, children, parents) often a contributing factor. Misogyny isn't limited to the academy. The big difference between law and the academy is that there is no tenure in law: partners can be terminated for almost any reason, or no reason. Indeed, law firms go to great lengths to "prove" there was no reason for terminating the female partner with children who required her time and attention. Boorish behavior among male lawyers is even more common than boorish behavior among male faculty members at the Harvard economics department. Isn't that refreshing.

No Borjas does not find the misogyny refreshing you arsehat. Go read what he actually wrote.

Cretins like you that spread false propaganda is why DJT took the crown. Stop lying and maybe there can be a real battle of ideas.

Borjas should consider suing Wolfers for defamation if the people like rayward persist in spreading these lies and they do damage to Borjas.

Here's another quantitative question that I haven't seen investigated much: very early retirement among high-earning women with higher-earning husbands.

My son won a scholarship to a very nice expensive private school, so I started hanging around with a higher class of parent. One thing that leapt out at me was the large fraction of mothers with MBAs or JDs who had retired from demanding careers when their husbands had started to pull in, say, mid-six figures incomes. School events tended to be phenomenally well organized because the volunteer homemaker moms running things had been making in the low six figures before they'd chucked in their careers to stay at home with their kids.

Some of them of course might eventually go back to work as empty nesters.

Reading up on Harvard Business School a few years ago, it was apparent that many of the women students treat it like the best husband-hunting grounds in the world, which drove a lesbian dean mad with rage:

But it's hard to find statistics on this phenomenon.

There's anecdotal support for this in my marriage. My wife left her professional career to raise our children. She calls it a promotion to motherhood. Living off a single income isn't as easy or luxurious as having dual incomes, but it was a great choice.

I think biology and evolution has justly given women a comparative advantage in nurturing children.

You guys in US, never heard of part-time work ?

Parenting and home economics is a full time job. Her additional civic and religious involvement is an unpaid labor of love.

Which two people, with two part time jobs, can easily share. But as Capt Obvious may be from the Netherlands, where health care and child care are likely not that difficult to arrange for parents, and part time work is common, he might just assume that the U.S., an ostensibly advanced industrial society, offers the same benefits to its citizens that the Netherlands does to its citizens.

Prior, a lot of people here find value in raising their own kids. Couple that with handling household duties and volunteering, it's a full time job. Maybe it's volunteering that Europeans don't get.

Advanced industrial societies can find, and pay someone to babysit if necessary, not rely on some nanny state.

Many types of advanced professional careers don't work well on a part-time basis. Lawyers, doctors, any kind of job with clients that expect you to be available tend to value that availability to the extent that they'll easily pay more than double for a full time person than they would for two part-timers. Quite a bit different from assembly line or service sector jobs.

The NBER paper I mentioned below shows that this holds across all countries and all times. Higher level of economic development makes part-time jobs harder. It is possible to offer government support to deal with the issue, though many sorts of programs will only make women more likely to quit their jobs.

There's this recent paper showing that across all countries and all times, higher levels of development (and higher return to education) is associated with greater tradeoffs between fertility and female labor supply. In less developed times and situations, childbirth does not affect how likely women are to work. In more developed situations, it's much more likely to get a situation where women are choosing between one or the other. (Solve for the equilibrium of, e.g, Japan encouraging more women to work without rather enormous baby subsidies, and how that will affect their population issues.)

But the type of guys that go to Harvard for their MBAs generally aren't looking to marry chicks with Harvard MBAs

I've seen the phenomenon of progressive downshifting as women age. The three examples I can think of is the wife of a collateral relation who quit practicing medicine and instead teaches horseback riding, an engineering student turned social worker turned SAHM, and a lawyer turned law librarian turned academic librarian turned school librarian. The first is married to a lawyer who founded a thriving practice, the 2d is married to a physician, and the third is married to a high-level much-in-demand higher ed administrator.

Not sure what's up there, but I don't think they went to professional school husband-hunting and I'm pretty sure two of these women had periods in their marriage where they were the primary earners. I do know that at least two are quite skilled at domestic things (one in cooking and the other in decorating) and that one of the two admitted the focus and working hours of her initial career had made her miserable.

I think this one aspect where the UK academic system is significantly better. In the UK tenure is decoupled from promotion. There is usually a 5 year probation period, after which you get tenure but not promotion. Even at the top universities, the probation period is not very stressful, as long as you are basically competent in research and teaching. The bar for promotion is higher, but you can apply when you are ready: if you are a research star you can get promoted early, but if you want to focus on teaching or policy or outreach, that's fine too. How much teaching/outreach is valued depends on the university and the department, but at least your job is secure. I think it is not a coincidence that academic salaries are not nearly as high as in the US (about 2/3rds roughly). Nevertheless, I am glad I moved to the UK for a faculty position after completing my PhD and postdoc in the US.

The comment section in Bloomberg is worse than the one here.

I would think tenure also lengthens the time it takes for hiring to help remedy past discrimination. Seems like all those old profs take up slots, and tenure helps them hold on, in some cases long past where the market would otherwise replace them. On top of that, beyond deserved turnover, ageism (not that it's a good thing) would also "help" improve turnover.

I'm sure there was a vigorous debate about how to reform the Maginot Line after WW2.

This whole article proves the cliches about academia being so vicious because the stakes are so low.

Amend the Age Discrimination act to reinstate the provisions that permit mandatory retirement at 65 for tenured faculty. "In the closing hours of the 1986 congressional session, the House and Senate reached agreement on legislation amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 to prohibit mandatory retirement on the basis of age for all workers except for tenured faculty in higher education, police officers, fire ..."

There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education some years back which suggested a limit of 35 years of f/t academic work (he had first been hired at 27 and could afford to retire at 62; he told a story of a conversation he'd had with a 78 year old academic suggesting to the man that he give someone else a chance, a suggested which offended the old guy). IIRC, the median age for completing a dissertation is 33.5 years or some such. For people able to build a career, that usually means two years in visiting positions, about six years as an assistant professor, and x years in the tenured ranks. His notion would mean (typically) 27 years in the tenured ranks and retirement around age 68.

Why is gender parity necessary? Will this apply to all majors, or just male dominated ones? If you disrupt the natural equalibrium for an imaginary cause, who pays (not $) for it, the students?

ugh. At least I'm not a teacher. ....equilibrium....

Here's an alternative hypothesis:

I every profession, there will be high and low achievers. At least some of the low achievers are deservedly disgruntled because of unfair treatment or some other non-merit based misfortune.

But the male low achievers don't as easily have sex discrimination as the reason or excuse for their low achievement. Those men who claim they were the victims of male discrimination are labeled "misogynist" for presenting evidence and argument that supports their theory.

And all the while, few people actually do any studies on productivity by gender. And few do studies on the effect of child rearing on male productivity. Nor do people research the relative opportunity costs between married researchers.

How very uneconomisty this is.

The real answer to this problem is that women shoud have their kids early, then go back to their careers. Creating a mommy track is not a new idea, and however realistic and well intentioned you probaly will be hearing about how out of touch and condescending it is shortly.

Margaret Thatcher told my wife in 1999 that she was lucky to have twins so she could get all her childbearing over and done with at once and get back to her career.

Did she get back to her career?

I have a suspicion that bourgeois Britain maintains one of the occidental world's least child-centered cultures.

I had a child at the age of 25 and I was lucky to have been in a supportive graduate program. Some of my 30 year old friends are struggling with infertility (if that suprises you, it's because you aren't close with a lot of 30 year old women). So, I do wish more women had the opportunity and motivation to have children earlier. I got a good piece of advice that traveling to Europe can wait. You can travel to Europe when you are 40 and your kids are independent. You can only be a young parent once.

That said, what do you mean by going back to their careers? I think that getting hiring and admissions committees to consider people who who have dropped out of the race for a year or more would require major overhauls such as what Tyler is suggesting.

A more useful reform would be to limit tenure to 20 yrs, and give the older professors the jobs you are describing. And let's not forget Department Chairman as a grazing pasture for unproductive scholars either. Also diversity committees, etc.

Perhaps ideal for academic research, but twenty years of work is seldom sufficient nowadays to avoid superannuation, and there isn't much of a job market for washed up economics professors outside of academia.

Bill McBride, who may not fit the definition of washed up, seems to provide a distinct example of just how much better an older economist running a web site can be than younger ones.

Admittedly, he never seems to have been an academic economist.

Good, actionable suggestions.

"For all the jawboning about limiting discrimination, without adding good jobs on a significant scale, academia won’t get very far in addressing its imbalances."

So the cost of higher education will go up even more? How about as an alternative the existing white male virtue signallers in the profession can step out of the way. Lead by example, Tyler!

To the extent that James Dalmore's forum post had advice about what may be a better way to attract more women than expensive jawboning, it was along these lines. He seemed quite sure that tech work could be rearranged to make it more people and family friendly, more social and thus more attractive to women without interfering with its essential goals and mission, and that that could even be helpful.

Unfortunately his low social skills and ability to communicate without offending got him in trouble. (Ironically, rearranging the tech industry to use those skills more and thus be friendlier to women would indeed be worse for guys exactly like him and leave them more likely to be out of a job, so at least he was doing the opposite of virtue signaling.)

"Unfortunately his low social skills and ability to communicate without offending got him in trouble."

I'm unconvinced that even high social and communication skills would have helped. The message was not Politically Correct and it's content and delivery were largely irrelevant. Reference Larry Summers comments, a person who had high communication skills.

I imagine that if his communication skill level had been higher he would have made the message so innocuous as to be meaningless or the result would have been exactly the same.

What if we are successful in creating these female-friendly versions of programming and engineering but they don't end up being as useful?

Tyler may think he's trying to heal a society that's coming apart with this nonsense, but this proposal would only do the opposite.

1. Officially sanctioned discrimination — be it fully overt or the semi-covert kind that changes metric to favor a particular group — only fuels resentment among BOTH the group that is favored and the group that is discriminated against.

2. If society is going to heal itself, we need to start by acknowledging that the tastes and abilities of differing groups overlap some, but not entirely, and that aggregate disparities by themselves are not evidence of discrimination. That's not to say aggregate disparities shouldn't get people looking for conscious or unconscious forms of systematic discrimination, but anyone who tries to tar an entire field and further divide society with claims substantiated by aggregate disparities alone needs to be shunned out of the discourse. They are killing the country.

I don't think you read the article. Tyler said that the existing structure of jobs in academia doesn't offer many options. You're either on a tenure track, which means busting your ass for ages 26-40, or you seek a lower-wage, lower-status position as a teaching professor. Tyler argues that there are other ways that profs can produce value to their institution and gives a few examples. By creating career tracks that provide status and wages for people doing this type of work, you give academics more choice. Some of these would be more appealing to people interested in starting a family in their early 30s, particularly women.

The only way offering more choices could be construed as discrimination is if you believe that the lowering of status of currently-tenured professors (something Tyler acknowledges is necessary for this plan) is discriminatory, and this is contingent on their current level of status being "deserved". As far as I can tell, there's no inherent reason why a research prof is more deserving of status than a teaching prof or a policy fellow. From my own graduate school experience, I was unimpressed by many of the high-status tenured researchers in my department while those more directly involved in practice to be both better teachers and in retrospect much more useful to my in my career.

There's no way to "add options." This won't increase money spent on economists. It will transfer money spent on research to money spent on other stuff.

That would be fine if Tyler and others believed that such a change would increase the value produced by economists as a whole, but if that was the belief, then there's no reason to talk about sex. He'd just say, "We waste money on marginal research that could be better spent elsewhere."

But he does not earnestly argue that such a shift would increase the total value produced by economists; the major selling point is that it would bring in more women/pay them more (although Tyler soft-pedals the corresponding reduction in male employment and wages, as well as the corresponding reduction in research).

Wanting sex balance rather than just wanting to maximize value (as defined a priori) created for the payroll dollars you have is overt discrimination and the only fig leaf of justification for it is that the "overrepresentation" of some group is necessarily evidence of discrimination that demands redress. It isn't.

Adapting the job to fit some idealized diverse candidate pool seems completely backwards to me. It's like buying pants that are too big and gaining weight so they fit.

Sometimes employers can't fill positions and have to look to expand the labor pool and "add options" to entice whoever's available. But it doesn't seem like econ departments have any trouble in this regard. Employers *in general* have been very willing to employ and accommodate women when it's been worthwhile, but I think serious restructuring and overhauling of a profession should be done based on actual need, not just to attract female employees as a goal in itself.

"In other words, leading economists have spent a whole week “punching down” at those who are not in charge. I’ve hardly seen any critical self-examination about how the leaders, and the incentives they have created and supported, might also be at fault."

Not all that different from the people decrying the neo-Nazis, many of whom in positions of power help to perpetuate some of the systematic racism remaining in the system.

The article is interesting, the argument is convincing, and the headline is sober and clear. Nice work.

Even granting there is a large untapped reservoir of women that would be fully capable of being programmers at Google or econ professors or whatever else, it still doesn't necessarily follow that we need to push women in such directions (not to say they should be discouraged either). In the first generation, there may well be some benefit to it, but if these women have few children and/or have their children very late, this will deplete the technical talent in subsequent generations. (I don't know the names of the women in the Bernoulli family, but they could be said to have made considerable contributions to mathematics, albeit indirectly).

As a factual matter, Google apparently did not need very many women to make the company what it has become. Is this inherently bad? If you are focused squarely on productivity and getting stuff done, it isn't. It's only as companies move into a more mature phase and are swimming in money that they notice (are informed) that they have a supposed gender/diversity crisis. That will be the pattern we'll continue to see. Perhaps productivity doesn't matter that much at a lot of institutions (mature companies, government, academia), and so it makes sense to focus on these kinds of political objectives instead. But I suspect we've taken that idea too far, and this seems especially true in some parts of the public sector.

This point should be made ad-infinitum whenever the various guises of this issue are brought up.

It's the same everywhere. Google spends millions on diversity initiatives believing microagressions are the problem and can be solved by good PR, yet their results in hiring a more diverse work force are not impressive. They all talk a good game, and the cycle of 'why oh why are we not recruiting more women? we started a monthly women's breakfast club!' goes on because they don't actually care enough about it to change the working practices of their firms which put women off getting to the top. They like that their workplace is competitive and off-putting to flexible work preferences, and like that they can hire a good PR firm to pretend they care about diversity.

"They like that their workplace is competitive"

That is it in a nutshell. And that's all they should care about. They are should not be 'good corporate citizens' any further than not violating the law. They exist to produce efficiently and provide the consumers with consumables. End of story.

Given the risks of adverse selection and moral hazard, I cannot fathom why economists still favor tenure. Must be their self-interested nature since it is the institution that bears the cost, not the faculty member.

There is already a pretty considerable safety valve in academia: the vast variety of institutions. Being a professor at a "teaching school" is a lot like getting a low-status job at a research institution. I was hired in a cohort of about 30 new faculty (which is a lot for my university) this year. About 2/3 of new hires are women. They might be consciously trying to bring in more women, but I think this place just appeals to women because you don't have to worry about losing your job if you can't crack a top journal 3 times in 6 years.

Again, 52% of the doctoral degrees awarded in this country are awarded to women and 48.3% of all post-secondary teachers are women (whereas 46.8% of the total labor force is female). You're flogging a solution in search of a problem.

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