Economics is a dwindling field. Long called the 'dismal science' it is now considered just another philosophical school of thought; people in the money business who want quantification hire physicists rather than economists.
And the lack of female interest in the field shows it is no longer in vogue. A new analysis finds that women make up 57 percent of undergraduate classes at UK universities but only 27 percent of economics students. The women who like math are doing something else with it. 1.2 percent of females apply to study economics while 3.8 percent of boys do.
More telling is that only 10 percent of females with an A level in maths want to do economics. That is also much less than the 19 percent of males with A levels who go into the field and lends weight to the argument that females are more inclined to want to do things that help people, like science, while more males may be fine working in a think tank.
Economics degrees pay well, on average, but those averages hide a truth. It pays well at the highest levels and poorly at lower levels and jobs are difficult to get. Arguing that average income for economics majors is good is like noting that Michelin-star chefs make a lot of money so more people should pay to go to culinary school. It won't create a world of all high-paid chefs.
Dr. Mirco Tonin says they reached their conclusion by analyzing a random sample of administrative data covering all university applications in 2008. There was no discrimination against females in the university application process, females were as likely as males to receive an offer of a place on an economics course. There was also no gender difference in the likelihood of an applicant accepting or rejecting an offer.
Rather the data show that girls are far less likely to apply to study economics at all.
"Girls are less likely to have A levels in Maths than boys, and this could represent an impediment to applying for an Economics degree," says Dr Tonin. "However, even among those who have studied Maths, females are still less likely to apply for an Economics degree than males, suggesting that differences in the choice of A level subjects cannot explain the whole gap."
Interestingly, those females who do apply to study Economics tend to have a stronger Maths background and better grades at A Level than male applicants – 46.4 per cent of females get an A grade, compared to 4.36 for males.
The paper in the CESifo Economic Studies journal, highlights other studies which suggest the gender gap in mathematics disappears in more gender equal societies.
"This suggests that cultural rather than biological factors are behind the gender gap and that a positive loop may develop, with more equality leading to better education achievement by girls, leading in turn to more equality," says co-author Professor Jackline Wahba.
"We believe that enrolment in Economics may be an important channel in this loop. If more girls become proficient in Maths, more are likely to enrol into an Economics degree and, in turn, more are likely to access positions of influence in policy making, from where they can promote a more gender equal society."