“There has never been a more important time to be an economist, or a female economist”, these were the inspiring words offered by our Economics Fellow Dr Victoria Bateman at our fifth annual Women in Economics Day on 25 September.
Around 100 female economists of the future, aged 16-18 years old, attended the day, which featured speakers from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the University of East Anglia and the Women’s Budget Group. Attendees explored some of the most pressing issues facing our society and economy today and were urged to think critically and take action in an unsettling economic environment.
“Economics needs you”, Dr Bateman explained. “In order to build a true picture of the economy it is crucial that economists draw upon different experiences. 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. It means being in tune with not only the goings on of the business world but also having an ear to the ground when it comes to life in communities. 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 of the economy 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.”
Dr Bateman opened the day by discussing why feminism is important in economics, drawing on key themes from her new book The Sex Factor: How women made the West Rich. She explained that women’s freedom boosts wages, investment, skills, entrepreneurial spirit and democracy. She said, “Social freedoms need to come first not last” and discussed key topics such as prosperity, inequality, and state versus market.
Following lunch in our new Acropolis event space, the attendees had the opportunity to find out more about studying economics at the University of Cambridge, and at Gonville & Caius College. A panel of current students shared their experiences about their time at University, living and studying at Caius, and what they found most rewarding and challenging. Their advice to applicants was to “be determined and take initiative” and don’t be put off by the Cambridge application process. They said, “It may feel like there are a lot of hoops to jump through, but these are just opportunities for Directors of Studies to get to know you better.”
“Economics shapes the lives of every single one of us. Understanding the economy is vital to ensuring that everyone who wants a job has a job, that income and the standard of living grow year-on-year and that people have access to decent healthcare and education. It is also central to politics and society, influencing everything from what goes on at the dinner table (and, dare I say it, in the bedroom) to the nature of democracy. Not only does economics matter for politics and society, but, in turn, politics and society feedback to affect the economy. This makes economics one of the most exciting subjects to study,” said Dr Bateman.
Also speaking at the event was Dr Laura Harvey from the University of East Anglia, and Kate Bell from TUC. They discussed the links between income inequality and gender inequality, and challenges in the modern day labour market, such as insecure work, the gig economy, stagnating wages and the future of workers’ rights not just in the UK but as far as China.
Dr Sara Reis from the Women’s Budget Group encouraged the sixth formers to think about the implications of the government’s budget. She introduced the students to the ‘toilet queue theory’ and used it to explain the importance of a gender-equal budget that allocates resource to women and men so that their needs are equally met. She highlighted the way in which cuts to public services, including care provision, can in general affect women more adversely than men, with women expected to fill the gaps left by cuts, and how different taxes – from alcohol and fuel duties to VAT – can, on average, have a different effect on men and women.
Dr Bateman’s closing remarks were optimistic: “The good news is that economics is changing. It is, slowly but surely, undergoing a revolution. However, not all revolutions bring about the desired effect. If economics is to change for the better and not for the worse, it needs to draw upon new ideas and new voices, embracing experiences that differ from the “norm” and that can offer something new. That includes the experiences of young women just like yourself. Economics needs a breath of fresh air, something which you can provide.” She added, “Let’s not take the future for granted. The future can be whatever we want it to be. The future is made by people like you.”
Find out more about studying Economics at Cambridge, and at Caius, on our subject pages.