The single story in economics - and why we need more women in economics

One of the reasons we decided to start a blog was the lack of women in economics, especially among bloggers. There are some great blogs written by women such as The Enlightened Economist by Diane Coyle or Jodie Beggs’ Economists do it with models. But if you stroll through this list of The Top 100 Economics Blogs you can’t help but notice the omnipresence of men in the econ blogosphere. This is (somewhat) representative to the field of economics in general, only 33% of economics undergraduates in the UK are women and at the top European Universities, only one eight of the economics professors are women. Recently there has been increasing awareness among economists that this is a problem and people are trying to figure out the implications and reasons for this. This issue reminded me of a Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I recently watched about the danger of a single story.

In her talk the Nigerian novelist (and feminist), talks about how our world is populated by the stories we tell and how it can be harmful if the subject (may it be a person, a country or an organization) is reduced to a single story. She uses her home country Nigeria as an example and recalls experiences in which people have asked her about her home “country” - Africa -  and how Africa’s narrative in the United States has been reduced to an image of poor helpless people, but doesn’t do justice to a continent consisting of many diverse countries and people that are much more than the single story that is being told about them.

What is the story of economics then?

It’s a story of men and models. Over centuries men of various branches of the social sciences populated the discipline of economics with theories, models, and ideas about how the world and our society works. They have had (and still do) brilliant insights that expand our knowledge of how we interact and can help create a better society. But back then - and now - men experience different realities than women. When Adam Smith published his book The Wealth of Nations in 1776 women weren’t even allowed to vote in the UK. Smith himself lived at his mother’s house while writing his thesis and ironically wrote about the butcher, the brewer and the baker contributing to society but overlooked his mother creating value by transforming those goods into meals. Even today, household work is not measured in the most widely used statistic for economic wealth - GDP. Men simply did not see what was happening behind the curtains where most women were bound to stay in the kitchen and take care of the household.
It’s understandable that this patriarchal society produces insights into the working of the economy that are not reflective of everyone’s reality, but we live in a very different (though still patriarchal) society today. Women today are in a much better position in terms of political voice and agency, but the story of economics is still told by men. Economics has such a central place in our society and reaches into our daily lives so that you'd think we would want the inputs and voices in the field to be as diverse as possible to speak of all our experiences. We experience different realities based on our gender, ethnicity and income level and to improve the society we live in these stories need to be heard, too.

It’s not the fault of the established economists that this is the state of economics. But they need to recognize that there are things they don’t see and that they can’t cover the entire spectrum. Too many people deny that there is a difference in the experience of men and women (or people of different ethnicities, or people of different incomes) because we accept the single story as the official one. Luckily, this seems to be changing. In the underground network of economics aka #econtwitter debates about gender and diversity are happening around the clock. Various economists from all over the world discuss how we can improve the overwhelmingly aggressive seminar culture, enable women and minorities, and reform guidelines to make them more sensitive to issues of diversity.  
Stories shape the way we think about the world and recognizing that can enable us to create a platform where more diverse stories are told and heard, which translates into a more diverse society.




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