Why so many women in public affairs schools?

This paper presents on three new styled facts: first, schools of public affairs hire many economists; second, those economists are disproportionately female; and third, salaries in schools of public affairs are, on average, lower than salaries in mainline departments of economics. We seek to understand the linkage, if any, among these facts. We assembled a unique database of over 2,150 faculty salary profiles from the top 50 Schools of Public Affairs in the United States as well as the corresponding Economics and Political Science departments. For each faculty member we obtained salary data to analyze the relationship between scholarly discipline, department placement, gender, and annual salary compensation. We found substantial pay differences based on departmental affiliation, significant differences in citation records between male and female faculty in schools of public affairs, and no evidence that the public affairs discount could be explained by compositional differences with respect to gender, experience or scholarly citations.

That is the abstract of a new NBER working paper by Lori L. Taylor, Kalena E. Cortes, and Travis C. Hearn.  I have a vague sense that the same might be true of public policy schools as well.  Why?


People think if your title has the word "public" in it, you must be paid less. Public defender, public health clinic, so why not for public affairs?

I think many women opt to public affairs schools because there are only so many positions on the womens' national soccer team.

Don't most girls take "home economics" in school? So why is this new sexist news?

The reason is because math and science is hard.

LOTS of six-figure salaries in the universe of public broadcasting: our "publics" simply need to stick together more tightly.

How common is it to get a PhD in public affairs, compared to getting a PhD in say economics? My guess is that the research intensity is lower in a school of public affairs than in an economics department. And corresponding to Tyler's vague guess about public policy schools, I'd guess that their research intensity is higher than that of public affairs schools but lower than that of econ departments.

At the top end of the profession, we see Nobel prizewinners in econ departments (in both arts and sciences schools and in business schools) but very few (none?) in public affairs schools.

So it hardly seems surprising that salaries are lower for faculty in public affairs schools. It's not where the top economists are.

'we see Nobel prizewinners in econ departments'

Sort of by definition, right? And such economists are a marketable commodity, particularly in terms of lending prestige, though this comment section tends to not appreciate discussing how that works.

And in a way, it is a game of status all the way down, such as the fact that Nobel's name was used to lend prestige to an award that has nothing to do with Nobel in the first place.

Sophistry. An economist in a Geography department is just as capable of earning a Nobel Prize in Economics as one in an Econ department. One relevant question is whether the Nobel committee would discriminate against an economist outside of an Econ department, ceteris paribus. Another question is whether being in a Geography department is correlated with having subpar research, and thus the likelihood of a Geography professor winning is low thereby. That is, they dont fail to win Nobel prize because they are Geographers but because their research is low quality.

So economists win Nobel Prizes in Economics (actually, The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel)? Fascinating. Tell me more. Has any physicist won a Nobel Prize in Physics?

He’s saying it’s their work, not where they are “housed” in the academy that determines the likelihood of a Nobel prize.

He said, "we see Nobel prizewinners in econ departments". I am still trying to figure out where he thinks they should more likely to be.

Huh? he says:

" we see Nobel prizewinners in econ departments (in both arts and sciences schools and in business schools) but very few (none?) in public affairs schools."

Was it that hard to read the entire sentence? He's pretty clearly stating that Economists in Econ departments are much more likely to be Nobel prize winners than Economists in public affairs departments/schools.

He's not stating where they should be (an opinion), he's stating where they are (a fact).

Well... they've given it to a psychologist and to a political scientist (who was a woman). Herb Simon's PhD wasn't in econ, and he worked in psychology and computer science. John Nash and Lloyd Shapley were mathematicians (and might even show a bit of disdain if you intimated that they were economist). The Nobel committee has certainly showed at least some willingness to give the prize to people who do interesting work, regardless of the discipline.

"[N]o evidence that the public affairs discount could be explained by compositional differences with respect to gender, experience or scholarly citations." Isn't the evidence apparent: economists in public affairs are predominantly women, and salaries of economists in public affairs are lower. Okay, what the authors are saying is that gender isn't the cause of lower salaries in public affairs because both men and women in public affairs receive lower salaries. This brings us back to the original question: why do women flock to public affairs if the salaries are lower? The likely answer is that they are more likely to get a job in public affairs than in an economics department. Not only that, but women are more likely to receive better treatment while seeking their degree in public affairs as opposed to their treatment in an economics department. In other words, women flock to public affairs rather than economics because of the (mis)behavior of the predominantly male faculty in economics. They'd rather take a lower salary than put up with the pigs (irony intended).

Agree totally. Men tend to put up with crappier work (e.g., mining, dealing with economists, etc) for more money, because there is still this unfair social pressure for men to make more money and be the primary earner. Women, on average, tend to put less value on money, because their unfair social pressure is to be the primary caretakers in their families.

As fast as our society is changing with respect to gender, these pressures regarding our roles don't seem to be budging much. Change these, and maybe some of these sex differences will attenuate a bit.

And yet, the more equal the society and the lower these expectations, the greater the sex differences. For example in Scandinavia sex differences are greater than anywhere else in the world. Let people be themselves!

Yeah. That's a finding that points towards gender differences, and it fits with my biases. But, as with any of these types of analysis, you have to wonder about the metrics they used to assess how egalitarian a society is. How valid is their scoring system?

Great comment Ray, I think that is the correct reading of this.

Women seem to be more drawn to work involving people such as medicine, law, public policy, education etc. as opposed to more abstract stuff like number theory or chip design.

Hope you've got good unemployment insurance. A remark like that can get you fired.

Who knew design of potato chips was so analytical and abstract

Nice one, James.

It's the veggie straws that require the tough design work. Those of you in California probably don't know what I'm talking about because of the ban.

What the paper might be missing is the career path that attract women to public policy schools.

Their analysis needs to take one step back: public policy graduate schools attract persons who already have a job in the public or non-profit sector, and are looking for a masters degree to up their salary or increase their marketability in the same field.

The co-authorship component of the analysis is more interesting. How many male economists co-author with females (taking into consideration the male/female composition of the economist population).

Good point. Similar to teachers getting their masters.

You raise an interesting point at the end. Mathematics really, not sociology.

I once had a student who measure "diversity" at universities in a regression with %Black as a variable. I asked him if he considered Howard University or Grambling to be diverse? In another project, a different student observed segregation by race in a university lunch room. She observed how many people of each gender and race there were eating at the same table.

I'm at a loss in finding a good measure of diversity and segregation. If one randomly pulls balls of only two colors out of a sack of N balls and organizes them into groups of size n, in order of selection, it seems clear that given a large enough n, the number of red balls at a single table should be close to the proportion of red balls in the whole bag. But the composition of later tables depends on the composition of earlier tables. That is, one observation in the tail tends to contribute to another observation in the tail.

So I'm not sure how to compare observations of non random selection to that of a random selection.

Also, if there is a large preponderance of Blue balls, the events of 9 Blue and 1 red and 9 red and 1 Blue do not share equal qualities of diversity. The latter case is clearly self-segregation while the former case could be random chance.

Put more bluntly, if women make up 25% of economists, observing an organization that is 90% male is far less a sign of gender bias than an organization that is 90% women.

Another issue is that personal preferences that are highly correlated with sex affect these non random choices or sex herding.

It is easier, and most women take the easy route.

This situation is emblematic of the so-called gender wage gap. Women's choices drive lower earnings. But lower earnings need not be construed as worse. These jobs often have preferred working conditions: low stress, regular hours, no travel, constant salary. It is why the percentage of female economists in government is higher than the percentage of female economists.

Are public affairs schools pleasant?

I'm in a Manhattan park (an unusual place for me to be), and I see a lot of (beautiful) women.

But then, it's a nice place to be.

"Public" signals "non-competitive" and/or "non-commercial" across all academic domains, no? (Distinctly odd that those signals could carry similar messages off-campus.)

Consequently, "public" goes on to signal its secondary or tertiary academic relevance, economic relevance, political relevance, social relevance, et cetera.

Even so: "public education" continues its career as one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated upon the American . . . public.

This seems to match a broader pattern that women, especially educated ones, seem to be more enamored with government (and thus, equivalently, less interest in private sector) than men: public affairs, public policy, and disproportionately few women libertarians, in finance, and in for-profit tech.

"Those women, they have jobs. They don't have to endure me. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, I tell you."

Are public affairs degrees something people get just to put on their resumes when applying for government-related jobs? Degrees obtained merely for career advancement, like an M.Ed., seem to have less value.

This is anecdotal, and personal, but I suspect that a survey done, say, before graduate school would ... if included in this paper as an explanatory variable show strongly that women envisioned themselves in public policy schools in their careers to be. So the study is missing plan fulfillment as an explanatory variable.

My memory on this goes back to the mid-80's, but I think the ratio of interest in my circle in public policy programs went about 10 to 1 for women vs. men.

To clarify, these are women with economics degrees who go to work in public affairs departments (not women with degrees in public affairs). My prior comment may have created some confusion.

I don't see an indication as to whether the data are disaggregated by field of economics. For instance, the fields that can go into business school teaching, including finance, are likely paid more than others. Second I didn't see a disaggregation by rank of department. The salaries in the leading research departments likely skew the means of the non-public affairs economists. It may be that professors in public affairs departments are paid comparably to professors in lower-ranked mainstream economics departments but less than the top-tier and business school economists, who skew the control data. Third, Prof. Cowen doesn't indicate whether there is a control for age at entry into academic labor market and leaves of absence. Females may enter the field later and have practical experience, which gives them good credentials for public affairs schools, but the public affairs schools may pay less than more theoretical fields that require more years of academic training and deferred earnings.

Is there a physicists-not-employed-in-physics departments analogue to this?

Maybe women on the whole aren't as good at high-level math?

Maybe women aren't even as good at coming up with myriad fascinating reasons, reasons building upon reasons, in a comments section open to all, why women might be overrepresented in public affairs shops (or public policy - distinction, with a difference? - never mind, I'll look it up)?

[I don't know what's the matter with me today. Sometimes I like to tell myself a little joke.]

I suspect that salaries are higher where there is a lot of private sector competition. You can get a high paying job with an advanced law, medical, or econ degree. Or you are a top football coach.

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