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Why are women underrepresented in economics?

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Group of businesswomen attending a seminar, raising their hands. Focus on hands.

A toxic seminar culture could be partially to blame.

When Alicia Sasser Modestino was in graduate school for economics, she gave a seminar as part of a university job interview. A well-known labor economist in the audience ripped her research to shreds, she says.

“Some of his criticisms were valid, others maybe not so much, but it was the relentless way he did it where after that seminar, I decided I didn’t want the job,” says Modestino, an economist and associate professor at Northeastern. “Not to say that one seminar derailed my whole career, but it was definitely influential. It had an impact on me.” She decided at that point not to pursue the job in academia and went on to become a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston instead.

Women are highly underrepresented in economics, making up only about 30 percent of doctoral  students—and that share has not grown at all over the past two decades, Modestino says. Previous research has shown that women in the field are less likely to get tenure and less likely to get published in academic journals. Why do these pervasive disparities exist? The culture of economics—and specifically seminars—could be partially to blame.

In a study published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Modestino and her colleagues found that women were asked 12 percent more questions than men during seminars, and those questions were more likely to be hostile or patronizing.

Continue reading at News@Northeastern.

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