When Women Don’t Get Any Credit for Coauthoring with Men

Link to Justin Wolfer’s New York Times column “When Teamwork Doesn’t Work for Women”

Unless it is quickly and decisively overturned, Heather Sarsons’s finding that women in economics get almost no credit for papers they have coauthored with men will irrevocably change the economics profession. And given the additional informal evidence provided by snatches of remembered conversations, the likelihood of the result being quickly and decisively overturned is not that high.

What will matter is not whether men in economics believe Heather’s finding, but whether women in economics believe it. And the news of this finding will spread like wildfire among women in economics–especially now that Justin Wolfers has broadcast this finding in the New York Times. It is going to become much harder for men in economics to find women willing to coauthor with them :(  So papers will become much more sex-segregated into papers with all female coauthors and papers with all male coauthors than they now are.

One possible change that I think won’t happen in any great measure is economists ditching the strong tradition of coauthors almost always listed in alphabetical order for the custom in other disciplines of carefully ordering the authors by relative contribution. Making order of authors matter requires very tricky negotiations that most economists are not used to and that many (including me) would find quite unpleasant.

If my prediction of greater sex-segregation in journal articles because of women’t unwilling to coauthor with men is borne out, another prediction follows: women will want to go to departments that have an above-average number of women (compared to other departments) so they will have people in their department with whom they can coauthor without losing all the credit.

In response to the Facebook discussion after “How Big is the Sexism Problem in Economics? This Article’s Coauthor is Anonymous Because of It,” I wrote that I believe there is enough discrimination against women in economics that (with some patience) a department can get ahead in the rankings by specializing in hiring and tenuring more women and being a good place for female economists to work. I think that is true even with respect to ranking judgments tilted toward the judgments of male economists, but is even more true with respect to donors who are less sexist than the body of economists whose judgments are largely behind the usual rankings.

Given the newly clear incentives for women in economics to go to departments that already have many women, the departments that are already rich in women economists are likely to become richer, while those departments that are poor in women become relatively poorer. So it will become more and more evident in the future whether I am right that hiring and tenuring more women and being a good place for female economists to work will help a department to pull ahead relative to the competition. I am betting that the women-friendly departments will move up relatively to the women-unfriendly departments.