A dearth of women in economics? Not at SOAS.

women in economics blog image - Economics Department
Semhar Haile, Junior Policy Analyst, OECD and BSc Economics and Development, SOAS © Richard Bailey

Staff of the Department of Economics at SOAS University of London reply to a recent article in The Financial Times, ‘Where are all the female economists?’, which highlighted the dearth of women in economics, particularly among the undergraduate student body in the UK. The article identified a number of issues that may help to explain this, each of which is relevant.

Economics at SOAS

We wanted to share our experience and practice as an economics department that consistently attracts a gender-balanced undergraduate and postgraduate student body and has an almost 50-50 split among our academic staff as well. Here are three factors that we have identified that help explain why SOAS Economics attracts more women than the average UK undergraduate programme.

First, we offer undergraduate BSc Economics degrees to students that have not necessarily taken A-level Maths, although we provide training for the level of Maths needed. Students with a B or above in GCSE Maths (and meeting other requisite admissions criteria) are able to complete a rigorous Economics degree that prepares them for employment in the private and public sectors as well as for further study. Given that girls are less likely to take A-level Maths – as shown in a study by Cathy Smith and Jennie Golding – our undergraduate entry policy is one important vehicle for increasing the proportion of women studying economics.

Second, our research-led teaching is open to different theoretical and methodological approaches to economics. The Financial Times mentions the ‘image-problem’ of economics and that many economics graduates end up in careers outside the financial sector.

Our teaching reflects this reality, applying theory to real-world examples, not just in the UK and Europe but beyond.

We still teach the standard Economics 101, but students are as likely to learn about Dutch Disease and the Iranian economy and wage growth in China as Advanced Game Theory in an undergraduate Economics degree at SOAS. This diversity in teaching of economics is something many of our academic members of staff have taken forward through their membership of the young academics’ Re-teaching Economics network, one that works closely with the students’ Rethinking Economics movement to improve and diversify the economics curriculum.

Third, we have a gender-balanced and socio-economically (as well as ethnically) diverse academic and teaching body with a range of research and teaching interests, including feminist economics.

Our academic community is, therefore, more aligned with a gender-balanced student body than many other institutions.

By having such a diverse and balanced community of researchers and teachers, we are able to attract the more diverse, i.e. balanced, student community that ought to be the norm and not the exception.

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