Gender, brilliance, & the economics department

Last month at the 3rd Biennial Science of Learning Symposium hosted by the Science of Learning Institute, NYU psychologist Andrei Cimpian presented his collaborative work on perceptions of brilliance and gender.

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He and his colleagues found that success in fields such as physics, math, philosophy, economics, music theory & composition, and engineering is perceived to depend largely on the innate qualities of “brilliance” or “genius”–qualities that are typically gendered male. You can read the forthcoming full article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology here. A shorter and chattier account with zippy graphics, co-authored with Princeton philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie and published in  Scientific American, is here.

Where does this all come from? Well, that’s a big question . . . but, as Professor Cimpian pointed out his in talk, this 2016 ad for Gap Kids doesn’t help.


(PS It’s hard to see, but they misspelled Einstein on the kid’s shirt. Really?)

But back to perceptions of brilliance in the academy, especially in field of economics. Last December The Economist ran an article titled “Women and Economics: The profession’s problem with women could be a problem with economics itself” that opens with these sobering statistics: “According to information from university websites, about 20% of Europe’s senior economists are women. In America, 15% of full professors are women. At Harvard, arguably the most prestigious economics department in the world, the faculty pictures that beam down from the wall feature 43 senior members of the department. Only three are women. Two have tenure.”



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