Why Are There So Few Female Econ Bloggers?

In answering this question, Claudia Sahm omits what I think is the real answer. Econ blogging is low-status.

Let’s say you’re a female professor at a university somewhere. Your entire academic and professional career has revolved around and will continue to revolve around your search for legitimacy in the eyes of others.

So, the next thing you do is go register littlemisseconblogger.wordpress.com…

Look around Ordinary Times, and you will note that this is a volunteer shop. Every last one of us is here either because we are a bot or because we enjoy it and can afford to. I am sure there are many women economists who would like blogging, but most can’t afford to. They can’t afford to let loose opinions that are less than thoroughly worked out. They can’t afford to get caught expressing a retrospectively embarrassing position.  They can’t afford to spend time on work that isn’t peer reviewed and thus won’t get them credit.

woman economics photo

Home Economist Mary Norris, 1953. Image by Seattle Municipal Archives

Blogging does have its rewards, but they are primarily internal and come at the expense of those things that may entail greater rewards. Just because your day job is economics doesn’t mean economics blogging will create benefits that carry over to your career. I question whether even Tyler Cowen, the supreme commander of econ bloggers, feels his real-life academic economics career has been helped much by his economics blogging. Still worse off are the majority of bloggers who write into a stiff wind to no effect.

Blogging is time-consuming. It is more likely to detract from your reputation than enhance it. The blogging world has fat tails, and not in a good way. You are more likely to blog something offensive that gets you fired than you are to blog something great that opens up an opportunity that makes as big a positive impact on your career as losing your job would make a negative impact.

I have a friend who designs offshore oil platforms and also enjoys sailing yachts. Sailing functions in his life like econ blogging does for most academic economists. It’s an expensive habit that can only be justified through your enjoyment of it.


Managing Editor
Home Page Twitter 

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

19 thoughts on “Why Are There So Few Female Econ Bloggers?

  1. Peter North has some good suggestions on how to be popular and relevant blogging and especially in the area of economics, although I doubt any academic with, or desiring tenure, would want to take him up on the idea.

    Report

  2. Part of me says “so do it pseudonymously!”

    Blog and blog and blog some more. Get into arguments. Throw down in comments! Argue against the position you really hold and see how weak it is. Argue against other positions and see how strong they are. Get better at arguing. Get better at seeing holes in your own arguments.

    But then I think that that’s probably not particularly rewarding for people who don’t already fit a very particular psychological profile in the first place.

    Report

  3. The low status thing doesn’t hold up on close examination. There are plenty of female bloggers in general blogs, women’s issues blogs, culture blogs, and company. There have been women like Amanda Marcotte or Alyssa Rosenberg who got their status through the Internet just like Matt Yglias. Male economic bloggers do not loose and might even gain status from blogging.

    My guess is that economic blogging isn’t low status but it isn’t a good way for economists of any gender to spread their views. Rather, it helps economists who already have status propagate their beliefs to a larger audience. Female bloggers who do well, do so in areas where you don’t need pre-existing status like many male bloggers. Without the Internet, nobody would know about Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias either probably. They would be comfortably middle class but not remotely well known.

    Report

      • This obviously may not apply for non-academics.

        For academics, we can look a bit by inspection. When Tyler Cowen started, he was a professor at George Mason University, and now he is…a professor at George Mason University. When Andrew Gelman started, he was a professor at Columbia, and now he is…a professor at Columbia. Dan Dresser is at Tufts, and I can’t point to any academic career progress due to blogging. I doubt James Hanley has benefitted professionally either.

        These people certainly now have public profiles where they would otherwise have none, but that isn’t the same thing as helping their academic careers.

        Report

        • Here’s Drezner’s CV. It looks like he started blogging in 2002 as an assistant professor at Chicago. He became an associate professor at Tufts in 2006, which doesn’t seem like an unreasonable move in any case. I don’t know the quality of his publications, but I do have a hard time thinking that the Tufts faculty that hired him were thinking “well, his academic qualifications may be a little below our standards, but he’s an A+ blogger!”

          Report

            • Well, let let this excerpt hang out there with emphases added:

              “Blogging per se is not considered either good or bad at the University of Chicago,” said Yang, adding that, in Drezner’s case, “We did not consider the blog. I can say that.”

              and this:

              it seems to be an especially touchy issue in the academy, bound by both tradition and a tendency to discredit work done in the public sphere.

              The concern, as elucidated by Drezner on his blog and in an August Tribune article on the dangers of blogging, is that maintaining a Web log will be seen as a diversion from the real scholarship an academic ought to be doing.

              It could also be viewed, a widely discussed opinion piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education argued, as a sign that this person, once tenured, is likely to tell tales out of school. And it could allow one’s other work to be interpreted, in light of the blog, as glib or frivolous.

              Report

        • I guess that blogging can be deemed low status in academia but the academic hierarchy seems unclear. Actual high status seems to mean becoming well known, respected, and powerful outside of academia like Tyler Cowen or Judith Butler.

          Report

          • The academic hierarchy is actually pretty clear. If you’re in a given area, you will know who the big names are in that area. A “big name” is someone whose written multiple papers you’ve actually read and you still remember what area they were in. If someone’s an editor of an A-level journal or a former editor, you will probably know that. And really it’s your status as perceived by others in your area that matters.

            I know what you mean by wanting to say that someone like Tyler Cowen has “actual high status”, but if that’s the case, then I’m not talking about actual high status. I’m talking about one’s professional status among one’s peers.

            Report

          • FWIW, I actually talked about this the other day in regards to history profs:

            My understanding from people in the field is that there are, in a kinda-sorta way, two sets of historians today.

            The first set is what we lay people tend to think of when as “historians”: PhD in history, working at a college or university doing research in a highly specialized category. This set stays out of politics professionally, even if they don’t personally. So for example, they have no professional skin in the game of how Founding Father X would vote in various modern elections and litmus tests. If you do a lot of internet skimming on self-titled history blogs with posts that primarily about things like Kim Davis or Hilary Clinton’s email server or why George Washington would have banned/not banned Muslim refugees today, odds you are not reading people from this set.

            The second set is more of a hodgepodge of history buffs, who may or may not have PhDs but aren’t really working alongside the set above. It’s common in this set to find people who majored or received their PhDs in things like women’s studies, seminary, poli-sci, education, law, or other well respected academic pursuits. Their primary role is to use their personal study of history as a tool to debate current cultural and political issues. If your tastes in reading about history means that you occasionally purchase and peruse, say the Journal of the American Antiquarian Society Journal of the Early Republic, then chances are you are not following this group.

            All of which is to say that if you have a popular history blog, chances are it will at best do nothing for your intra-office cred, and at worst hurt your rep. I suspect it is the same with economics and other academic fields.

            Report

    • The low status thing doesn’t hold up on close examination. There are plenty of female bloggers in general blogs, women’s issues blogs, culture blogs, and company.

      Status is always status in some field. It’s entirely possible that blogging brings a certain kind of of status in the areas of feminism and pop culture that it does not bring in economics.

      The closest female equivalent to Yglesias and Klein is McArdle and she is an outlier in other ways that are perhaps worth paying attention.

      Report

  4. All of these explanations will likely end up with lots of overlap. For instance, Vikram’s status explanation maps very well to Sahm’s #3:

    3. Women underestimate what they would contribute by blogging.

    Blogs, for all their interesting ideas, have a bit of egos running amok too. It takes a lot of confidence to offer up opinions and argue your position with others. Now most economists need some measure of confidence to do their work, but is it fun for everyone? Would you choose to keep sparring in your free time? I have sat in meetings with two male economists basically yelling at each other over something unknowable … they finish and walk away pleased with their digs and I am drained just by listening. So while I enjoy blogs, I also read fast and try not dwell on the bickering. It makes me sad. It is easy to think that showmanship is a part of blogging and maybe women are less likely to enjoy that.

    In many ways, the status that comes from blogging comes from doing academic and ideological combat with other bloggers and maybe that just doesn’t appeal to as many women as men.

    Here is my overly simplistic and possibly sexist explanation, that likely maps to a whole bunch of other explanations: economics is not a very good discipline for the women who do want to blog to make the kinds of points that they want to make.

    Report

  5. The status issue reminds me of a conversation I had at Leaguefest. An OTer was telling me that he thought I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup was one of the finest essays he’d ever read, right up there with the best of Orwell. But he was concerned that it sounded really weird to say that about a blog post.

    Report

Comments are closed.