The future of UK economics is in danger of being disproportionately male and private educated. One in six boys studying for A-levels takes economics compared with one in 17 girls; one in five students at private schools takes A-level economics compared with one in 12 in the state sector.
This lack of diversity is a problem because economists – who occupy key policy roles in government departments and the Bank of England – need to reflect the society that they are helping to shape. What’s more, by not studying economics, women, state school students and some ethnic minorities miss out on a degree that leads to high-paid future careers.
This week was the launch of #DiscoverEconomics a new three-year campaign led by the Royal Economic Society (RES) in partnership with leading economics organisations. A new website will provide information about studying economics at university and examples of what economists do www.discovereconomics.ac.uk.
The campaign aims to broaden the appeal of economics to potential students, change their perceptions of economics and economists, and attract more students from under-represented groups – women, state school/further education college students and ethnic minorities.
The first phase of the campaign will raise awareness of the problem, and work with universities and employers to increase information about routes into economics. The second phase will launch to 15-17 year olds from September 2020.
The #DiscoverEconomics initiative already has the support of a wide range of institutions involved in economic research, communication and policy-making, including the Bank of England, the Government Economic Service, the Society of Professional Economists, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Centre for Economic Policy Research.
Clare Lombardelli, Chief Economic Adviser at HM Treasury, says:
‘Economics and economists are hugely influential – their analysis and advice shapes the world. We need the very best talent to solve today and tomorrow’s challenges, such as the issues raised by climate change, an ageing society, changing technologies or how we improve wellbeing. The economics profession is, and has always been, far too narrow. We need people with a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives – including people from all over the UK and from differing socio-economic backgrounds – to join the profession and play a part in tackling these issues.’
Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and former cabinet minister, comments:
‘Economics is a great subject to study and a great area to work in. There are amazing women economists working on issues from public services to international development, global trade, the future of employment or climate change. But women are still only a minority in economics and I think that’s bad for economics as well as being unfair. This is a great campaign to encourage more women to go into economics.’
Stephanie Flanders, Senior Executive Editor at Bloomberg and head of Bloomberg Economics, notes:
‘Economics is far too important to be left to just one half of the population. Today we have women at the helm of key global institutions such as the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund and female Chief Economists in place at some of the world's largest banks. But if you look behind these great role models, there are not so very many women coming up the ranks to succeed them. We need to develop a more reliable pipeline of young women entering the profession and I think this campaign could help.’
Beata Smarzynska Javorcik, Professor of Economics, University of Oxford, and Chief Economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, adds:
‘The face of economics is changing. There will be more women than ever at this week's meeting of Chief Economists from international financial institutions in Washington DC. To make sure this trend continues, we need to attract more female talent to the profession.’
Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, says:
‘The economy affects everyone. Yet at present economics is not for everyone; it is neither diverse nor inclusive along many dimensions, including gender, ethnicity and social class. It is for the economics profession, including employers of economists, to fix it. That is why the Bank of England greatly welcomes and supports this important campaign by the Royal Economic Society – Discover Economics – to improve the diversity of the economics profession, from schools through universities into the world of work.’
Ratidzo Starkey, Head of Outreach and Education at the Bank of England, adds:
‘At the Bank of England, we are currently having to think about new problems, such as the impact of climate change on the economy and the future of work. These issues will need new perspectives and different viewpoints if we are to come up with solutions that have a positive impact on all society. It is critical that economists reflect this and that the profession appeals to a diverse range of people. That is why this initiative is so important.’
Gus O'Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, says:
‘We need a diverse mix of economists who understand our wonderfully diverse society to advise on policies that will improve lives, particularly for the most disadvantaged groups.’
And Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, comments:
‘Economics is a great subject and leads to some brilliant careers, so everyone should be made welcome. And an economics in which everyone feels welcome is bound to be a wiser, more robust field of study.’