Economic Research on Gender, Race & Ethnicity, and Inequality

How much research do economists devote to the topics of gender, race and ethnicity, and inequality? In a recently published article in Econ Journal Watch, Arnold Kling and I looked at articles published in the American Economic Review as well as the conference papers of the American Economic Association on this topics. We find that economists devote a large amount of space to the topics combined in recent years: over 10% of published articles and over 20% of conference papers. We also find that the share of research on this topics, as measured in these two AEA outlets, has been increasing over time (we go back to 1991, when the current JEL Code system was introduced).

Of the three areas we looked at, papers on gender saw the clearest increase, rising as both a share of published articles and conference papers. Published AER articles addressing inequality have also been increasing over this time period, though AEA conference papers on inequality have been stable. Both published articles and conference papers on race and ethnicity have been stable over the period we studied as a share of the total, though the absolute number has increased.

What is the significance of our results? Our main motivation was to challenge other economists who suggest, in various ways, that economists ignore these topics or don’t study them enough (for examples see these popular writings on gender, race and ethnicity, and inequality). Our research clearly shows that economists devote a good deal of attention to these topics, and for many areas it has shown a clear increase.

It is still possible that economists don’t dedicate enough time to these topics. We make no strong claim in the paper about what the correct amount of time for each topic would be. However, we do note the opportunity cost that comes with an increasing focus on these topics.

More importantly, those who suggest in public venues that economists ignore these areas are doing a disservice to all the scholars that have devoted their careers to studying these important topics and publishing their results in one of the top journals in the discipline. We have much more to learn about gender, race and ethnicity, and inequality, but dismissing the research that has already been done is unfair to a discipline that has increasingly focused on these areas.

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