Who Studies Economics? An Analysis of Diversity in the UK Economics Pipeline


The Royal Economic Society acknowledges the lack of diversity in economics and
is committed to taking action to address it. Given that diversity is a dynamic and multi-dimensional concept, we recognise the need to understand and engage with its complexity to effectively address it.


The RES Diversity Report by Stefania Paredes Fuentes, Tim Burnett, Gabriella Cagliesi, Parama Chaudhury and Denise Hawkes is now available to read. This report is the first to explore the diversity of UK economists from a socio-economic background perspective. Using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), we examine the intersection of socio-economic background, gender, and ethnicity of economics students. We consider who decides to study economics, those who are more likely to drop their economics studies, and who is awarded a good degree in economics.


Some of the key findings of this report include:

  • Economics can be considered an elitist discipline, with the lowest proportion of students from low participation neighbourhoods in higher education compared to all other disciplines. This lack of socio-economic diversity is more pronounced in Russell Group universities.
  • White male students from higher socio-economic backgrounds are significantly over-represented in economics, accounting for 33 out of 100 in Russell Group universities, 27 out of 100 in Pre-1992, and 21 out of 100 in Post-1992 universities.
  • While economics fails to attract women into studying the subject, those who do study economics do well. They are less likely to drop out and more likely to be awarded a “good degree” (2:1 or above) than male students from the same socio-economic background and ethnicity.
  • Socio-economic background is a significant factor in the choice of studying economics at university, and in drop-out rates after starting economics at university.
  • Black, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani students, who are already underrepresented in economics, are more likely to drop out after Year 1.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, regardless of gender or ethnicity, are less likely to be awarded a good degree in economics. Furthermore, students from Black ethnic groups are more likely to receive a lower degree qualification, and the gap in first-class degrees between White and Black students has increased over time.


This report has serious implications not only for universities and departments of economics in their recruitment processes but also for employers and policymakers who aim to hire a more diverse pool of economists.


You can find the full report here


We invite those of you attending the RES 2023 Annual Conference in Glasgow, to join the Special Session “Socio-Economic Diversity in the Economics Pipeline” on Wednesday 5th April at 10:15, where we will discuss the main implications of this report.