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).
- 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….”