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is economics less racially integrated than other disciplines?

A few days ago, economist Noah Smith posted this tweet:

This raises an interesting question: what is the racial balance of the economics profession and how does that compare with similar fields?

It helps to start with a baseline model. In higher education research, the common finding is that Blacks and Latinos are under represented among professors when compared to the population. Blacks and Latinos are each about 6% of the professoriate (e.g., see the National Center for Education Statistics summary here). Asians tend to be about 10% of the professoriate, which means they are over represented compared to the population. These numbers vary a little by rank, with lower ranks having more racial and ethnic minorities.

Finding the numbers for economics professors is tricky. You have to dig a little to find the data. In 2006, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education counted 15 Black economists among 935 faculty in top 30 programs – a whopping 1.6%. There seem to be very few surveys of economists, but there is the 1995 Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. That survey reports that .5% (<1%) of economics professors are Black, according to Bryan Caplan’s analysis of the data in the Journal of Law and Economics (Table 1, p. 398). The same article reports about 5% for Asian economists. This indicates that economics faculty are more likely to be White than the population as a whole and academia in general. If readers have access to more recent surveys of economists and their demographics, please use the comments.

Follow up question #1: Is economics similar to other related social science disciplines like political science or sociology? Answer: Political science has about 5% Black faculty and 3.4% Asian faculty according to this 2011 APSA report (Table 8, p. 40). Sociology has about 7% Black faculty and 5% Asian faculty according to this 2007 ASA report. So economics is more White than allied social science disciplines and about the same in terms of Asian faculty.

Follow up question #2: What about economics’ similarity to math intensive STEM fields like physics or math? According to a 2014 report from the American Institute for Physics, about 2% of physics faculty are Black and 14% are Asian (see Table 1). According to this 2006 study of the American mathematics faculty, 1% are Black and 12% Asian in the PhD programs (Table F5).

To summarize:

  • Economics professors are less likely to be Black (~1%) than professors as a whole (~6%).
  • Economics professors are less likely to be Black (~1%) than political scientists and sociologists (5%-7%).
  • Black professors are equally common in econ, math, and physics (1-2% for each field).
  • Asian economics professors are equally common as Asian professors in other social sciences (3.5% in political science, ~5% in economics and sociology).
  • Economics professors are less likely to be Asian (5%) than in academia as a whole (10%) and even less than physics and mathematics (14% and 12%)

Bottom line: Economics has fewer Black faculty when compared to social sciences and fewer Asian compared to physical sciences. That’s something that makes you go “hmmmm….

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

January 6, 2016 at 12:01 am

20 Responses

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  1. […] Source : is economics less racially integrated than other disciplines? […]

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  2. So you’re comparing 1995 percentages of Asians for econ with 2007 and 2011 numbers for sociology and polisci, respectively? That seems grossly irresponsible. You also seem to be comparing top 30 programs only for econ with a more representative sample for sociology and polisci. Also grossly irresponsible.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 7:31 pm

  3. JJH: I noted this in the original post. We work with the data that we have. The 1995 Post/Kaiser survey is one of the few random samples of economists that reports ethnicity. The 1996 and 2006 numbers are roughly similar to each other, which suggests continuity. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that the demography of economics has radically changed in the last 10 years. For example, has there been a doubling or tripling of Black econ faculty lately?

    In other words, this is not perfect, but it is informative. If you have evidence showing that economics has a similar demographic composition to other fields (social science or physical science), please post.

    Thanks for reading.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 7:37 pm

  4. Oh come on, this is just reverse hippy-punching. Economists disagree with other social scientists because economists are *racists*.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 7:52 pm

  5. “Reverse hippy-punching?” That is the funniest thing I heard all day! “Daniel-san, remember the crane kick and the reverse hippy-punch.”

    On a serious note, I made no claims about why the demography of economics is as it is. Racism is one hypothesis, selection effects are another. But we simply don’t have the data to test these hypotheses. I didn’t mention it in my post.

    Liked by 1 person

    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:02 pm

  6. But you don’t really have data about the demography of economics.

    Instead, you have a Noah Smith tweet.
    Looking at NSF’s statistics (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-2/c2s3.htm#s3 ), a few calculations indicate that of PhDs issued in 2011…
    40 percent of new economics PhDs were American citizens, 83 percent of sociology PhDs were American citizens.
    24 percent of new economics PhDs were American citizens who listed their race as White, 56 percent of new sociology PhDs were American citizens who listed their race as White.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 8:30 pm

  7. Actually, there is data on the demography of economics in the original post:

    – Caplan’s Journal of Law and Economics analyzes the 1995 survey – which includes a random sample 250 economists. The data includes self reported ethnicity.

    – The JBHE 2006 analysis of the top 30 programs reports their estimate of the ethnicity of 935 faculty members.

    The post was not about PhDs issued, but about faculty.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:33 pm

  8. Once you read the literature on academic fields, you find that there are many more # of minorities among undergrads > grad students > PhD completers > junior faculty > tenured faculty.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:35 pm

  9. I clicked on the table you linked – it reports not by ethnicity, but by gender and citizenship. That is worth talking about but not the issue in Noah’s tweet or the blog post.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:36 pm

  10. Here is what would convince me that my post was wrong: a table from a survey showing that at least 5% of econ faculty (overall or in PhD) in US institutions of higher education were African American.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:38 pm

  11. JJH: You work in econ PhD program? Have an econ PhD? Look at the professors and figure out the % Black. Unless you are at an HBCU, there probably won’t be more than a couple per program.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 8:41 pm

  12. That is a separate contention, that is not well-represented by your post. Your post claims that economics as a discipline– not merely in its elite or most senior segment– is less racially integrated than other disciplines and moreover (implicitly given the Smith tweet at top) that it is more white. It is not. Here, for example, is the current cohort of job market candidates from Smith’s own institution of the University of Michigan (
    https://lsa.umich.edu/econ/people/job-market-candidates.html ). They are clearly part of the discipline, as are the 2000-2011 PhD recipients in this table ( http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/content/chapter-2/at02-33.pdf )– most of them no longer particularly junior, being between 5 and 15 years out of their PhD.

    Whether there are specific barriers– institutional or academic– deterring black Americans from becoming economists is a separate question from the assertion that the discipline is segregated or white.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 8:53 pm

  13. JJH: Actually, your link supports my post quite well. Look at 2011 in the chart you cited: 1,152 (all PhD recipients in economics): 279 white US citizens: 56 Asian/Pacific Islander: 19 Black/African American; 16 Hispanic; 1 Native American; unknown 85; Non-US 696.

    The result: Blacks are 1.6% of the total, Asians are 4.8% of the total. This is completely consistent with the post which did not separate US from the rest of population.

    What if we only looked at US PhD recipients? Answer: 4% Black, 12% Asian. Thus, economics looks like academia ONLY IF YOU LOOK AT US PhDs.

    This might start to shed some insight on the process. It might simply be that econ faculty are drawn from the total pool of PhD holders, not US citizens only, which explains the low Black % but not the relatively low Asian %.

    Regardless, the PhD pool data overall backs up the post.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 9:09 pm

  14. Right, the NSF disaggregates by race only for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, so any race is going to look more underrepresented in economics (where the minority are U.S. citizens) than in sociology (where the large majority are U.S. citizens). President Obama’s father, for example, would not have been counted as black when he was a Ph.D. student in economics at Harvard, using this methodology, and would instead be used to support the contention that economics is not integrated (or is all-white, according to Smith.)

    I’m still not sure how a data source that puts the percentage of white Americans among early career economists at under 30% of PhD. recipients supports a post that claims the discipline is not integrated. Again, the specific barriers facing black Americans is a separate question and is not helpfully addressed by this post.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 9:19 pm

  15. I think the issue is that you are talking about citizenship and I am talking about race. For example, I just now looked at photos of faculty at the top 5 or 6 econ programs (Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Chicago, Princeton, Stanford). In terms of citizenship, these programs are truly global – you have scholars from the US, Western Europe, Russia, Asia and Latin America. So yes, “white Americans” are a minorities.

    But if you focus on race – being white, the picture is different. One of these programs did not have a single Black faculty member (MIT – http://economics.mit.edu/faculty). At Harvard, I saw only Fryer (http://economics.harvard.edu/people/people-type/faculty?page=1). At Princeton, I think I saw maybe one (rouse?) Black faculty (http://economics.princeton.edu/faculty-members). Berekely, I saw one – Miller (https://www.econ.berkeley.edu/faculty ). Stanford has Hoxby (https://economics.stanford.edu/people/faculty ) and Chicago has Lopes de Melo (https://economics.uchicago.edu/facstaff/ ). Literally, the top programs in the field have at most one professor each from Africa or the Diaspora.

    And the pattern is similar at lower tier programs. My school, Indiana, has zero. Up the street at Purdue, you have zero. At Lousiville, you have zero. The number is higher for Latinos, but the issue is complex there as many Latinos from Europe (Spaniards) and some from Latin America (Argentineans and Chileans) often consider themelves both White and Latino.

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    fabiorojas

    January 6, 2016 at 9:37 pm

  16. Well, citizenship is important to determining the diversity of a discipline if the majority of current Ph.D students and recent degree holders are both non-white and non-US citizens but race is only assessed for US citizens. Moreover, you seem to be ambivalent about whether Asians should be counted towards the diversity of a discipline- “yes” in your original post, “no” in your comment above, where only the representation of black faculty is relevant. Moreover, if a large portion of a discipline is being trained in the United States but returning to their home country to teach or work in government, I don’t see why they do not contribute to the diversity of the discipline as a whole.

    In Mr. Smith’s Twitter environs, declaiming the whiteness of a disliked elite is a commonplace. But it’s just not true that economics is particularly white by the standards of academia or social science.

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    JJH

    January 6, 2016 at 10:59 pm

  17. If the question is, what discipline has a higher percentage of whites among their young faculty, it pretty obviously is sociology and not economics. This should be obvious: more than half of the PhDs aren’t American in econ, and by dead reckoning perhaps 2/3 or so of the non-Americans aren’t white. Look at any job market candidate page and you will see many, many, many more non-white faces among economists than sociologists (with the majority of economists from good econ programs getting TT jobs, so attrition here isn’t a major source of bias, if at all).

    There are two things that are true: there are very few black faculty in economics, and there are lots of white guys at the top of the profession (33 straight white winners of the Nobel, for instance). But again, some accounting needs to be done for the more international nature of economics, as hopefully we all agree there are very few African-from-Africa (or elsewhere in the diaspora) faculty at top schools in any of the social sciences. If sociology has 7% black faculty, econ faculty are 40% American (in line with grad school numbers and roughly my intuition at top places), soc faculty are 83% Americans (likewise), then we have 8.4% of the American faculty in soc is black. For economics, 8.4% of 40% is 3.36%. One black faculty member per top department, or at most two, puts economics at precisely the same black faculty size, controlling for the internationalization of the fields, as sociology.

    This is all to say: it is strange to me to think that *econ* is the outlier when it very clearly is the most internationally diverse social science, by a large margin, and especially so at the top.

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    afinetheorem

    January 7, 2016 at 8:56 am

  18. […] week Fabio launched a heated discussion about whether economics is less “racially balanced” than other social sciences. Then […]

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  19. Look at this way: economics, engineering, mathematics and other hard sciences (not biology), all demand good analytical capability (math), value objective true, care less about PC.

    There this lens, everything here seems obvious…

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    actions15

    January 25, 2016 at 8:51 pm


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