varoufakis112 Getty Images women Getty Images

Economics Is Irredeemably Sexist

One reason women avoid the field of economics is the male chauvinist pig standing at its center, masquerading as the model of rationality. No sensible woman recognizes herself in Homo economicus, who always gets what he likes and likes what he gets.

ATHENS – Economics has an intractable “women problem.” High-school girls avoid it. Female undergraduates abandon it. And the problem runs deeper than the difficulty of attracting enough women to mathematics, science, and engineering. Even women who have reached the discipline’s summit, like Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, consider economists “a tribal clique” and their models defective.

One reason women detest the field is the male chauvinist pig standing in the middle of it, masquerading as the avatar of economic rationality. Economic models of anything from the demand for potatoes to the effects of the interest rate on inflation and investment are founded on the assumption of Homo economicus: a fictional, Robinson Crusoe-like, hyper-rational fool who always gets what he likes and likes what he gets (among all feasible alternatives).

No sensible woman looks at this model and recognizes herself in the depiction of the rational person as an algorithmic bot, ever ready to burn down the planet for the slightest private net gain, permanently incapable of doing what is right (just because it is right). Thoughtful men are also deterred by Homo economicus, leaving only the more brutish to adopt “him” as the archetype of rational behavior.