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Noah Smith

Economics Has a Sexism Problem

A new study showing rampant abuse in an anonymous online forum is roiling the field.
This shouldn't invite insults.

This shouldn't invite insults.

Photographer: Amy Graves/WireImage/Getty Images

This past weekend, the economics world was roiled by a controversy over sexism in the profession. A new paper by an undergraduate econ major revealed that an anonymous online forum called Economics Job Market Rumors is a hostile environment for women.

The paper, by Alice Wu of the University of California-Berkeley, was a clever one. First it used text mining to identify which forum posts talked about women and which talked about men. Then, using cutting-edge statistical techniques, it found which words were most uniquely associated with each -- in other words, words that tended to only enter discussions about women, versus those that only tended to appear when men were being mentioned. Both groups of words included plenty of insults, but the more “female” words were mostly about sexuality and attractiveness, while many of the “male” words were more professional in nature. This shows that sexual-themed discussions on the forum are generally reserved for women -- certainly something that would make many female economists uncomfortable in that environment. The paper’s findings are no surprise to anyone who has even casually perused the forum in question.