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Spotlight on Economics: Women in Ag Economics

In the undergraduate programs, you will not only learn economics, you also will apply your broad knowledge and personal experiences, coupled with your quantitative and analytical skills, to solve problems, present ideas, analyze data and have fun.

By Siew Lim, Assistant Professor

NDSU Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department

Women’s participation in the social sciences has risen considerably through the years. Women accounted for 37.7 percent of Ph.D. degrees in social sciences in 1997 and rose to 47.4 percent in 2010. During the same period, the share of female college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences hovered between 52 and 54 percent.

According to the American Economic Association (AEA), the share of women receiving a Ph.D. in economics rose from 25 percent in 1997 to 33 percent in 2010. Despite the increased share, women’s participation in economics and agricultural economics lags behind other social science and agricultural disciplines.

Women accounted for 28 to 30 percent of the general economics and agricultural economics bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2011 through 2012, while most other fields in agriculture and social sciences saw a larger share of bachelor’s degrees received by women.

In its July 2013 newsletter, the AEA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession featured a special section on “Where are the Women Economics Majors?” Because agricultural economics and general economics are closely related, it is fair to also include a discussion on where the women agricultural economics majors are.

Some possible reasons for the lack of women in the field, according to the newsletter, include a misconception of the field, course contents, mathematics and low numbers of female faculty (mentors) and students. However, no single factor fully explains the lack of female participation in economics or agricultural economics.

Misconception is perhaps one of the more plausible factors. Economics too often is misconstrued as equivalent to finance, and often economists are mistaken for people who work at a stock exchange or at an investment bank. This general misimpression is seen across both genders, not just among females.

Mathematics is another possible factor. Yes, it is true that having a good preparation in mathematics is very important for economists and agricultural economists. However, if mathematics deterred females from majoring in economics, mathematics also should drive women away from majoring in mathematics.

But this is not reflected by the share of female students (approximately 44 percent) graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Additionally, as economist and Harvard professor Claudia Goldin mentioned, psychology has increasingly required more quantitative skills, yet most psychology students (70 to 77 percent) are women.

At NDSU, between the spring 2011 semester and spring 2012 semester, females accounted for 16 percent of the agricultural economics majors, 19 percent of agribusiness majors and 19 percent of economics majors. This is a sizable gender gap. The shares of female and male students in principles-level economics classes are about the same. However, in my intermediate theory or higher-level economics classes, the female-to-male student ratio can go as low as 1 out of 12.

It is rather difficult for economics majors or economists to explain why women decide not to major in economics or agricultural economics. Rather than trying to explain women’s diverse preferences and choices, I will point out two simple reasons why economics and agricultural economics are excellent academic majors for both genders.

First of all, the job prospects are tremendous. Agricultural economics and economics curricula offer rigorous training that prepares the student for a wide variety of jobs in agriculture, business, government, journalism, banking and other sectors. You can be a journalist, writer, entrepreneur, business analyst, consultant, research associate, economic analyst, insurance underwriter, trade specialist, financial analyst or examiner, data analyst, portfolio manager, commodity merchandizer and more.

In the undergraduate programs, you will not only learn economics, you also will apply your broad knowledge and personal experiences, coupled with your quantitative and analytical skills, to solve problems, present ideas, analyze data and have fun.

For those who love research, don’t think they can get enough economics in college and desire more exposure to economics, graduate studies, especially at the doctoral level, open up even more opportunities.

Don’t forget that good to excellent computer skills also are a must, so select courses that can better equip you for your intended career path. The sooner you plan the better.

Secondly, you can help shape the world around you. Many people don’t realize how intimately economics affects our daily lives and the well-being of our society. On the personal level, your knowledge in economics helps you understand government policies and economic phenomena that affect your community, school, employer, business, family and friends, and you. Economics broadens your perspective and helps you make better choices at work and in your personal life.

On the job, you get to witness how economics plays a big part in institutional decision-making, policies and practices. You may be the planner, adviser or decision-maker, or you may contribute to the solution by recommending policy actions. You get to observe real-world cases and study human behaviors through the lens of economics. You get to be creative in applying economic theory and methods in trying to answer real-world questions.

The bottom line is, whatever your career path may be, as someone who is well-versed in economics, you can apply your professional knowledge and training to help make the society we live in a better place.

If you are interested, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook” at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm.

NDSU Agriculture – Aug. 6, 2014

Source:Siew Lim, (701) 231-8819, siew.lim@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu


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