Econ textbook study by Stevenson, Zlotnick highlights gender bias against women

January 19, 2018

New research conducted by Associate Professor of Public Policy Betsey Stevenson and Hanna Zlotnick (MPP ‘19) is highlighted in The Economist’s “How gender is (mis)represented in economics textbooks” and Inside Higher Ed’s “Gender Bias, by the Numbers.”

The work, which has already garnered significant media attention, exposes an underrepresentation of women in American economics textbooks. Stevenson contends that remedying this issue could be key in closing the field’s stubborn gender gap.

Stevenson and Zlotnick’s study, presented at the 2018 American Economic Association annual meeting, originally analyzed seven leading introductory textbooks in the field of economics. According to the research, 30 percent of the people referenced in these textbooks are economists, yet men outnumber women 12 to one, and no female economist appears in every book studied.

Excluding economists from their analysis, Stevenson and Zlotnick found that 70 percent of people referenced were men. Even “examples of ordinary, made-up people” were predominantly male, and in these pretend scenarios, men were tasked with the analysis and decision-making while women were “more likely to be featured in education, entertainment, and domestic roles.” Throughout the selected textbooks, few women business leaders are noted, and even fewer female policymakers are discussed.

Although economics has been historically dominated by men, Stevenson sees textbooks and related literature as important in shifting that paradigm and attracting more women to the field. To innovate, Stevenson suggests instructors “craft and choose examples that describe ‘the world their students are going into – not the world they’ve lived in the past.’” Without seeing themselves reflected in role models and examples, Stevenson contends that young women are much likelier to stop and think, “Maybe this isn’t for me.”

Stevenson is currently preparing the study for publication. The published work is to include research from an eighth economics textbook and feedback to comments received since her AEA presentation. The PowerPoint from the AEA presentation, “Gender Issues in Economics,” can be found here.

-- By Larry Sanders (MPP '18)

Betsey Stevenson is an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan. She currently serves as a member of the executive committee of the American Economic Association, and previously served as a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2014-16 and as chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2010-11.

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