September 23, 2019 / 10:45 PM / 4 months ago

Economists find more diversity in U.S. federal government than in academia: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. federal government employs a higher percentage of women and minority economists than universities and colleges but the pace at which they are being added remains slow, a report by the Brookings Institution published on Monday showed.

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past the Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Last year 30% and 24% of economists in the federal government were women and minorities, respectively, compared to 23% and 21% of economics faculty in academia, the study by the think tank’s Hutchins Center of Fiscal and Monetary Policy found.

Economics as a profession has repeatedly been criticized for being too male and white. The number of women, for example, who were awarded PhDs in economics in 2018 was 32%, a level that has barely shifted in 20 years.

The biggest employer of women and minority economists is the U.S. Federal Reserve, which employs 37% of all economists who work for the federal government, the report said.

Yet the share of women and minorities there remains mostly unchanged since 2013. The share of women economists at the Federal Reserve, which includes its headquarters and 12 regional Feds, has not budged at 24% of the workforce while the share of minority economists has risen to 25% from 22%.

Among other federal government institutions the percentage of women rose to 33% of the workforce in 2018 from 27% in 2010 and for minorities to 24% from 18% over the same period. The study defined economists as those holding PhDs.

“The lack of diversity harms the field because it wastes talent,” former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead the world’s most powerful central bank in its more than 100-year history, said when announcing the findings. “If economists are mainly of one gender or race, they’re likely to miss things that matter.”

The Government Accountability Office and the Department of Health and Human Services employed the largest share of women, at 55% and 48%, respectively, while the Army employed the least with 8%.

Minorities comprised 50% of economists at the Department of Defense excluding the Army and Air Force.


During her time as Fed chief from 2014 to 2018 Yellen pledged to increase diversity at the Fed, a mantle that has been taken up by her successor Jerome Powell.

Powell has called diversity a hallmark of successful organizations and in a speech to Fed staff last year said “there is plenty of room for us all to do better.”

The Fed did not have any further comment Monday when contacted by Reuters.

The rate-setting institution came under fire in 2016 when 127 lawmakers wrote a letter to the Fed urging more varied faces among its ranks while Fed Up, a network of community organizations and labor unions that wanted a more diverse and transparent Fed, was also very vocal around the same time.

Despite that, the three most powerful positions at the Fed are still held by white men while currently only two of the central bank’s 17 policymakers are non-white and all but five are men.

The central bank had never had a black district president until 2017, when Raphael Bostic was chosen to head up the Atlanta Fed

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston had the largest jump in women economists employed, to 43% in 2018 from 30% in 2013, the study found. But the share of women economists at the Dallas Fed fell over the same period to 16% from 20%.

Minorities employed at the regional Fed offices also varied. They comprised 43% of the workforce at the St. Louis Fed but only 12% at the San Francisco Fed.

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Tom Brown

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