Only the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Economics, it was not a surprise that Esther Duflo made it a point to put the spotlight on women economists around the world, who work yet remain to gain the acknowledgment that they deserve. During her Nobel Banquet speech, Duflo, who spoke on behalf of Abhijit Banerjee, Michael Kremer and herself, said that she was proud to represent women, and in particular women in economics. She further added, “Tellingly, Elinor Ostrom, the only other woman before me also relied on field work and studied what we can learn from poorer societies, from Nepal to Indonesia. I don’t think this is an accident. Development is one field of economics that has its fair share of women.”
“Today, I am also proud to represent women, and in particular women in economics."
See the #NobelPrize banquet speech by Esther Duflo, awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences with Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty. pic.twitter.com/e5U8KAOMMV
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) December 12, 2019
- Esther Duflo spoke on behalf of fellow laureates Abhijit Banerjee, Michael Kremer and herself at the Nobel banquet.
- Duflo said that she was proud to represent the women in economics.
- She hoped that her win will encourage many others to join the field.
- With the percentage of women economists not seeing any growth worldwide, Duflo putting the spotlight on them is monumental.
A 2018 Report from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics profession says that since the turn of the century, there has been no increase in the share of women entering the stream to become professional economists.
Duflo also said that some of her own work has been on the importance of women as role models. “I cannot help but hope that this prize, with its emphasis the essential question of how to improve the lives of others, and with one woman among the laureates, will encourage many others to come join us.” Indeed, one does hope that Duflo’s win will encourage women to pursue careers in various fields of economics; especially in India where the very word finances is touted to not be women’s business.
The sinking number of women economists is a worldwide problem though. A 2018 Report from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession says that since the turn of the century, there has been no increase in the share of women entering the stream to become professional economists. Among first-year doctoral students studying economics, women made up for 32 percent in 2017, as compared to 33 percent in the year 2000. What’s more, in at least a decade, there has been no increase in the representation of women among new PhDs and assistant professors. Infact, there is a drop-off at the associate professor level, indicating that women are less likely to advance to tenured positions than men.
So, the problem isn’t just women straying away from the field of economics due to social stigma, which labels them as “inefficient” when it comes to streams related to numbers and money, but they also face a lot of resistance within their field, which impedes their advancements. Justin Wolfers wrote in an article for The New York Times last year that women in the field often are held to higher standards in written work and aren’t given credit for papers written with men. “Student teaching evaluations tend to be biased against women, while journalistic discussions of economic research often relegate women to a secondary role,” read the article.
We are seen as wives, mums and sisters, and these roles somehow manage to put a question mark on our contributions and capabilities.
When lesser women manage to make it to the top echelon of any stream, or can see lesser prospects of a steady professional growth, it discourages many others to follow them. This is why it matters that Esther Duflo was up there, holding the mic at the Nobel banquet. Her own Nobel win was marred by some controversies, purely because of how the media chose to report it. She was touted to be to Abhijit Banerjee’s wife first, which overshadowed her contributions to the stream for which she has won the Nobel Prize. Isn’t this something working women have to deal with in fields other than economics as well? We are seen as wives, mums and sisters, and these roles somehow manage to put a question mark on our contributions and capabilities. If only our families and society could rally behind us, forming a strong support system which would allow us to cash in on our talent and potential fully.
We will get there one day hopefully. But for that to happen we need more Esther Duflos, who remain unfazed by the personal and professional challenges that the world presents to them due to their gender, and claw their way to the top. The mere sight of them standing at the finish line is enough to encourage others to follow their path.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.