To see how widespread the problem is, a research team comprising Guido Friebel, Alisa Weinberger and Sascha Wilhelm (all from Goethe University) and Emmanuelle Auriol (Toulouse School of Economics), used a web scraping algorithm to study data about personnel from 238 universities and business schools worldwide. Overall, the study involved over 34,000 individuals.
“We fed the algorithm with web addresses from universities, and from there it derived information on the number of professors and junior scholars. The classification by gender of the persons identified was done on the basis of names and a facial recognition software. To verify or correct the data we collected, we wrote to all the institutions. Almost all of them replied, and many deans commended us on this initiative, which was supported by the European Economic Association,” says Friebel.
In the US, women hold just 20% of senior-level positions (professorships). The overall average for the analyzed institutions was 25%, while in Europe, the figure is 27%.
“We find differences between countries and regions, which might reflect cultural aspects and norms. Europe is more gender-equal than the United States; institutions that are higher ranked in terms of research output have fewer women in senior positions than lower-ranked institutions. In the United States, this also holds for junior positions.”
But there’s no reason for European countries to pat themselves on the back. There are big disparities in Europe as well, with a few countries being mostly responsible for the more equal distribution. “Once again, we have the Scandinavian countries to thank for the positive numbers, but also Spain, France and Italy,” explains Friebel.
The disparity starts from the beginning of the career, but is amplified down the line. At entry level, 32% of positions in US institutions are held by women, compared to 38% in Europe. Worldwide, the average is 37%. Furthermore, the highest-ranking institutions (in terms of research output) tend to have fewer women in senior positions. This could be indicative of a culture problem, but the study stops short of investigating the causes for this disparity.
The researchers say they’ll now focus on how the situation could be changed in the long term. Studies have shown that diverse teams tend to produce better results and are more creative, yet many campuses still suffer from a dearth of diversity. In economics particularly, progress has been slow. In 2016 the share of women in PhD economics programs was 31% — figure which has remained more or less the same over the last 20 years.
The study “Underrepresentation of women in the economics profession more pronounced in the United States compared to heterogeneous Europe” was published in PNAS.