An award-winning senior thesis by Alice H. Wu at the University of California, Berkeley has been sparking conversations among economists about workplace culture in the field. Wu’s research paper, “Gender Stereotyping in Academia: Evidence from Economics Job Market Rumors Forum” reveals undertones of sexism and hostility toward women in economics.
Using an anonymous online forum for economists—https://www.econjobrumors.com/, or Economics Job Market Rumors Forum—Wu mined over a million posts of gossip about hiring in the field of economics. At first glance, the anonymity of the site seems to ensure that authors cannot be identified by gender. However, with the use of a series of keyword and pronoun searches, Wu managed to identify the subjects of each post and then used machine-learning techniques to find which words were associated with men and which were associated for women.
The list of words associated with women was startling. According to the New York Times, in order of prevalence, the list is: hotter, lesbian, bb, sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated, and prostitute.
In contrast, the words associated with men did not possess the same connotations: juicy, keys, adviser, bully, prepare, fought, Wharton, Austrian, fieckers, homo, genes, e7ee, mathematician, advisor, burning, pricing, fully, band, KFC, nobel, cat, amusing, greatest, textbook, goals, irritate, roof, pointing, episode, and tries.
One can note that the men’s list includes several words that are actually related to economics—such as “pricing,” “Nobel,” “adviser” and “Wharton,” while the women’s list does not. Wu’s research also reveals that conversations about men generally stick to the field of economics, while conversations about women frequently drift into the personal lives and physical characteristics of the women.
Although one online job forum cannot represent an entire field, its anonymous aspect supports the idea that this is open sentiment—and is enough to raise the alarm about attitudes toward gender in the workplace. The Economist’s 2014 ranking of most influential economists raised flags for not featuring a single female economist, while women already suffer inequality in pay across the spectrum of careers.
The magazine Mother Jones reports that, in the aftermath of the attention given to Wu’s paper, conversations on EJMR have attacked Wu, for the methods of her research as well as for her race and sex. Yet Wu stands resilient, telling the New York Times that the misogyny of the forum only makes her “want to prove [herself]” and that “more women should be in this field changing the landscape.”
Wu will begin pursuing her doctoral degree at Harvard University this fall.
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