The relative position of women in academic economics has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Nevertheless, in 2016 women held only 16 per cent of the chairs in the UK. Unlike the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines with similarly low female participation rates, economics has attracted very little attention from university governing bodies or publicly funded institutions seeking to address potential gender inequities and facilitate female engagement. We surveyed UK academic economists, collecting information on individual characteristics and the workplaces they are employed in to explore the current determinants of pay and job rank. We find a substantial raw (unconditional) gender pay gap of 15.1 per cent and an unexplained (conditional) gap of 12.7 per cent. The great majority of the gap is related to men receiving higher returns from being older or married; and from workplace characteristics. We find little explanation of the gap from measures of individual productivity, although men (positively) and women (negatively) are rewarded very differently for having excellent teaching evaluations.

Job rank is found to be an important determinant of the gender pay gap. Roughly half of the gender pay gap is related to within-rank pay differences and the other half due to differences in the probability for women of promotion into higher ranks. We find men are 11 per cent more likely than women to be a professor and 7.2 per cent less likely to be a lecturer, and that male professors earn 11.5 per cent more than do female. Amongst professors, the rewards associated with individual productivity characteristics and promotion are typically twice as high for men as women. Whilst men who have received an outside offer in the previous five years are some 50 per cent more likely to be a professor than are women who have.

In contrast to national gender pay gaps, and evidence from other disciplines, the gender pay gap amongst academic economists in the UK has not fallen since the turn of the century. The gap is substantial, and it is strongly influenced by the relative concentration of men amongst professors where the unexplained gender pay differential is considerable.

From 2017, organisations in the UK with 250 or more employers are legally required to publish their gender pay gap annually and the Equality Challenge Unit provides advice on how to go about reducing these gaps at the institutional level (Government Equalities Office, 2016). The extension of the Athena SWAN (AS) Charter beyond STEM disciplines from 2015 should help to provide greater awareness of equity at the department and the institutional (university) level for academic economists. Furthermore, the specific commitment in the AS Charter to “tackling the gender pay gap” should increase institutional awareness of within-department gender pay gaps.

We show that men and women receive substantially different rewards for the same characteristics; detailed pay and promotion reviews at the institution level for the senior rank holders would help to reveal this differential treatment and indicate appropriate adjustments. Adjusting the salary of female professors in a one-off uplift (as the well intentioned vice chancellor at the University of Essex did in 2016) to close the professorial pay gap will be of limited effect, not least because our results suggest women are 11 per cent less likely to be promoted to professor. Implementing pay and promotion reviews, however, without recognising the unconscious bias and institutional cultures that have led to the current outcomes will also be of limited use. Our results imply that universities need to reconsider the implementation of their equal pay policies in economics departments, especially in the old universities.



Karen Mumford is a professor who specialises in applied labour economics and works in the department of economics and related studies at the University of York  She has a long term research interest in gender-related topics with this paper being conceived when she was the chair of the Royal Economic Society (RES) Women’s Committee. Karen’s current primary research project is an exploration of the role of networks in labour market outcomes in the NHS.

Cristina Sechel is a research associate in the department of economics at the University of Sheffield. Cristina’s research interests are in applied microeconomics and applied econometrics. She is currently working on the causal impact of health status on labour market outcomes as part of the social and economic value of health programme funded by The Health Foundation. She has also worked on urban location choices and gender issues in economics.