April 2014 newsletter – A career in modelling: a note on the Government Economic Service

On the anniversary of the GES’s 50th birthday Helen Carrier1 and Karen Mumford 2 look at the relative position of women in the GES from 2000 to 2012.

The Government Economic Service is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1964 by Sir Alec Cairncross, the GES is a professional grouping of public sector economists who work across the departments and agencies of the British government. In recent times, the GES has seen a rise in women economists operating at the highest levels in government organisations, both as economists and within broader civil service roles. In the June 2001 Newsletter, Amanda Rowlatt explored the early gains of women across the Government Economic Service (GES). Amanda presented data from 1986 (the beginning of the data collection process) to 2000. This note builds on Amanda’s early work and assesses the evidence on the relative position of women in the GES from 2000 to 2012.

The GES is the UK’s largest single employer of economists, currently covering over 30 departments and agencies. Demand for economists has risen dramatically in the GES since the turn of the century. Figure 1 clearly reveals the numbers of economists in the GES to have more than doubled over the decade, compared to a slight decline in the numbers for the Civil Service as a whole.

The expansion of economist numbers has occurred across grades in the GES, as shown in the first panel of Table 1. At the Senior Civil Service (SCS) level the numbers are small and the growth rate of 40 per cent over the decade is substantial but considerably less than the growth rate for the GES in total (of 110 per cent). Economic Advisers accounted for 41 per cent of all the GES economists in 2000 and 38 per cent in 2011. The strongest growth has occurred at Grade 6 where the economists are expected to face an explicit strategic role in their work tasks.

A substantial proportion of the GES economists are women and this too is rising over time; 25 per cent of the new entrants in to the GES in 1992 were female, 31 per cent by 2000, and 35 per cent in 2012. (This later value is on a par with the proportion of female graduates receiving a first or upper second honours degree across the UK.) The relative presentation of women in the GES is considerably higher than the proportion of females found amongst academic economists in the UK where, despite strong growth, the relative number of women has only risen from 20 per cent in 2000 to 24 per cent in 2012.

Women have also increased their relative numbers across the grades in the GES (as shown in the lower panel of Table 1). This is especially true at the Senior Civil Service (the SCS) where women have gone from being 5 per cent in 1986, to 10 per cent (in 2000) and to 32 per cent (in 2012) of this workforce: more than a six-fold increase. In contrast, amongst academic economists in the UK, women made up some 4 per cent of the Professors 1996 and 11 per cent of the Professors in 2012: almost a three-fold rise. These differences between academic economics and the GES, as Amanda Rowlatt discussed, may be related to the Civil Service being a long-term family-friendly employer, with generous maternity leave and career break options. Job-sharing and part-time employment (even at the most senior levels) are also acceptable in the Civil Service whereas they are rarely observed amongst female professors in academic economics.

Women in the GES report a high level of work satisfaction (see Figure 2), a considerably higher level than that reported for the Civil Service as a whole. The vast majority feel valued for the work they do and are much more likely to recommend their organisation ‘as a great place to work’. Furthermore, the GES women are disproportionately satisfied with their leadership, and with pay and benefits.

The retention rate for women in the GES is much the same as it is for men (see Figure 3). Of the cohort entering the GES in the early 2000s, about 40per cent had left the GES by 2011 (for those entering in the mid-1990s, some 70 per cent had left by 2011). Whilst Figure 3 may indicate some gender differences at specific points in time, in aggregate the exit rates are similar for men and women over the time period.

Acceptance into the GES is limited to those who have participated in economics courses (or where the major element of a joint degree is in economics). This may lead to a fall in the relative number of women entering the GES in the future as many undergraduate degrees appear to be seeing a decline in the relative numbers of female economic students over the last decade, primarily due to strong relative growth in the numbers of male students. The relative number of female UK (domicile) PhD students in economics has risen between 2002 and 2012 (from 28 to 33 per cent), however, amongst the undergraduates female representation has declined 9 per cent (from 30.6 to 27.8 per cent).

In summary, the Government Economic Service (GES) continues to be a place where women are doing well, especially at the most senior levels. Women in the GES report high levels of work satisfaction and are very positive of their experiences at work. There is little evidence to suggest that women are more likely to leave the GES than are their male colleagues and the proportion of women amongst the new entrants appears to be limited only by the proportion of women amongst the UK economics student body.