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Girls told "Economics needs you!"

  • 16 September 2015

Sixth form girls from schools around the country visited Gonville & Caius College yesterday to hear the message “Economics Needs You!”

Dr Bateman surrounded by some of the Women in Economics day participants

The college pioneered the “Women in Economics” day to inspire girls to consider studying the subject and address a significant gender imbalance in favour of men both in economics degree courses and careers.

The event was designed to provide the same encouragement for girls to opt for economics as they now receive to study traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects (science, technology engineering and maths).

Almost 100 students drawn from state and independent schools heard from and were able to question prominent female economists including Dame Kate Barker, a member for nine years of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, and Dr Vicky Pryce, former joint head of the Government Economic Service and the author of a book on the Greek economics crisis, Greekonomics.

Dame Kate reflected on her experiences on the MPC during the 2008 crisis (the Bank of England "clearly didn't understand the risks the banks were taking"), and Dr Pryce told students economists must not merely think of themselves as providing analysis and must be prepared robustly to say what others might not want to hear.

Sunday Telegraph economics columnist Liam Halligan, together with Harriet Maltby and Alex Bleasdale of the Legatum Institute, discussed the complexity of measuring the prosperity of individual countries, the need to question data sources and - the panel agreed - the ultimately subjective nature of much of what economists do.

The students also received a welcome message from Carolyn Fairbairn, who in November takes over as director general of the CBI - the first woman to hold the post. Ms Fairbairn, who gained a double first in economics at Caius, said economics was too often seen as a “secret garden: a science that only an elite of (often male) experts are qualified to comment on”, and argued women’s views were vital if economic policy were to respond to the needs of both genders. She said: “Economics is not about mysterious theories: it is a subject that ultimately affects and must take account of, the lives of each one of us, women and men.”

To close the day, four female Caius economics graduates explained how their studies had led them into a diverse range of careers, from banking and academia to policy-making and journalism.

The economics day was devised and run by Dr Victoria Bateman, Director of Studies for Economics at Caius. Dr Bateman said: “The evidence shows that fewer women are applying for economics courses than men, even though when they do they have the same likelihood of being accepted. At Caius we want to take constructive steps to change things: we want to show young women how exciting economics can be, and inspire them to see the wonderful career opportunities that studying the subject opens up.

“It's crucial that economists draw upon different experiences, and that includes the voices not only of men but also of women, of younger people as well as older people, and of people from a whole range of different backgrounds.”

Dr Bateman added: “Sadly, the lack of female representation in the subject has meant that economics has been slow to open its eyes, meaning that economists have built a model of the economy which tells only half of the story. It is a model told through largely male eyes, from a stereotypically male experience – and a relatively privileged one at that.

“Economics has, for example, been slow to recognise the important role of society in a successful economy, the ongoing contribution of women’s reproductive and caring work, and the fact that real human characteristics are just as important for understanding the economy as are the more robotic “rational”, cool and calculating types of behaviour most commonly incorporated in economists’ models.”

But, she said, economics was changing, and girls and women should be part of shaping its future. She told the students: “The future of economics – and the economy – is in your hands.”

At the University of Cambridge, 36 per cent of applicants for economics are women, and the share of offers going to women is slightly higher at just over 37 percent. While females are in a minority, the picture in Cambridge is significantly better than in UK universities generally.

A study by the University of Southampton published last October (based on 2008 data) found that in UK universities overall women account for just 27 per cent of economics students, despite making up 57 per cent of the overall undergraduate population.


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