Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

10 top women in economics

Tomas Hirst
Editorial director and co-founder, Pieria magazine
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Following her nomination by President Obama to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, academic economist Kathryn M. Dominguez has joined the growing ranks of prominent female economists at the very top of their profession, including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Away from the media spotlight, there are a number of groundbreaking women helping to shape the discipline.

Below is a list of the top 10 female economists as of June 2015. The rankings were compiled using RePEc data.

10. Olivia S. Mitchell

Mitchell is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and executive director of the Pension Research Council. Her work focuses on public and private pensions, insurance and risk management, financial literacy and public finance. She has published 27 books and more than 180 articles.

In her most recent paper, co-authored with Annamaria Lusardi, the authors argue that tackling financial illiteracy is becoming a crucial challenge for governments:

Curing and preventing financial illiteracy is not costless, but investing in financial literacy is likely to bring high payoffs. And our work demonstrates that financial literacy can benefit not only the economically vulnerable in society, but also the population at large.

9. Ellen R. McGrattan

McGrattan works in the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota and is a consultant for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. She previously worked in the research department of the Minnesota Fed, where she was the third-highest-ranked researcher.

In March 2015, McGrattan published a fascinating paper on the evidence in favour of wealth taxes, as proposed by French economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, among others. Her conclusion from surveying the available evidence is that there is currently insufficient understanding of what we mean by wealth and what impact targeting any particular measure of it would have on the economy.

As she put it:

Unfortunately, current theory on this is insufficiently developed. Without a quantitatively valid theory or previous experience with taxing financial wealth, economists cannot make accurate predictions about the impact that such taxes will have on either aggregate wealth or its dispersion. Thus, any proposals to tax wealth are, at this point, premature.

8. Serena Ng

Ng is a professor at Columbia University in New York. Her particular fields of study are econometrics and macroeconomics.

In a paper she published in March with Kyle Jurado and Sydney Ludvigson, the authors argue that periods of heightened market uncertainty that have an impact on real economic activity are far less common than others have assumed. Indeed, they found only three big macro uncertainty episodes since the Second World War. These were:

the months surrounding the 1973–1974 and 1981–1982 recessions and the Great Recession of 2007–2009, with the 2007–2009 recession the most striking episode of heightened uncertainty since 1960.

7. Claudia Goldin

Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the NBER’s Development of the American Economy programme. Her research has covered topics including slavery, the economic impact of war, the female labour force, immigration, New Deal policies, income inequality, technological change, education and the gender gap in pay.

In her widely praised Presidential Address to the American Economics Association last year, she concluded:

What the last chapter must contain for gender equality is not a zero-sum game in which women gain and men lose. Many workers will benefit from greater flexibility, although those who do not value the amenity will likely lose from its lower price.

6. Bronwyn Hughes Hall

Hall is professor of Economics Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley and professor of Economics of Technology and Innovation at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands. Her work focuses on the economics and econometrics of technical change and innovation.

Given the productivity challenges faced by advanced economies in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Hall’s work on innovation has come to the fore. As her 2013 paper on innovation and productivity, co-authored with Pierre Mohnen, states:

In the minds of many people, and certainly in the view of most policy-makers, innovation is a key factor of economic growth …Growth itself can be achieved by putting more factors of production to work (increased investment, use of more land, decrease in unemployment and increase in labour-force participation) and by achieving higher levels of output with the same amount of resources.

5. Marianne Bertrand

Bertrand is the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She is a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Center for Economic Policy Research, and the Institute for the Study of Labor.

Her field is applied micro-economics and her work focuses mainly on labour economics, corporate finance and development economics.

In her 2013 paper, Trickle-Down Consumption, written with Adair Morse, she suggested that the decline in the US household savings rate could be related to income inequality at a local level. Having ruled out traditional explanations for the declining savings rate, such as precautionary savings or the wealth effect, the paper concludes:

A more behavioural analysis of these middle-income households’ consumption patterns instead suggested the possibility that the extra consumption might be related to an increase supply of “rich” goods within their market, and maybe also a desire to keep up with richer co-residents through more “visible” spending.

4. Janet Currie

Currie is the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs Director of the Center for Health and Well-Being at Princeton University. Her research focuses on the health and well-being of children, including early intervention schemes, expansions of public health insurance, public housing, and food and nutrition programmes.

In a paper published in Science last year, Currie and her co-author Anna Aizer argued that inequality of outcomes could be passed on through maternal disadvantage, leading to worse health at birth. They write:

Health at birth is an important predictor of long-term outcomes, including education, income and disability. Recent evidence suggests that maternal disadvantage leads to worse health at birth through poor health behaviours; exposure to harmful environmental factors; worse access to medical care, including family planning; and worse underlying maternal health.

3. Asli Demirgüç-Kunt

Demirgüç-Kunt is the Director of Research at the World Bank, having joined the international institution in 1989. While there, she has created the World Bank’s Global Financial Development Report and directed the issues on Rethinking the Role of the State in Finance (2013) and Financial Inclusion (2014).

She has authored over 100 publications on subjects including banking crises, financial regulation and access to financial services including SME finance.

In a paper released last year, co-authored with Deniz Anginer, Demirgüç-Kunt argued that strengthening capital regulations for banks by compelling them to increase the amount of high-quality capital they hold could help mitigate the type of systematic risks that were seen during the financial crisis. The authors conclude:

Our empirical results suggest that higher capital does indeed provide a buffer to absorb losses, mitigating the effect of systemic risk factors (such as collective uncertainty, information asymmetry and counterparty risk) which can propagate shocks across institutions.

2. Esther Duflo

Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Over her career she has received honours including the Infosys Prize (2014), the David N. Kershaw Award (2011), a John Bates Clark Medal (2010) and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship (2009).

Her research areas include health, education, financial inclusion, environment and governance. In particular, Duflo’s work has focused on designing social policy to improve the economic lives of the poor.

Her 2011 book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, written with Abhijit Banerjee, argued for a radical rethinking of the economics of poverty and the policies aimed at alleviating it. It won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011.

1. Carmen M. Reinhart

Reinhart is the Minos A. Zombanakis Professor of the International Financial System at Harvard Kennedy School. She is also a member of the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Economic Advisers and the economic advisory panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

She wrote the bestselling book, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, with Kenneth Rogoff, which documented historical examples of booms and busts and the many similarities between the events and the various policy responses.

More recently, she co-authored a paper with Christoph Trebesch on sovereign debt relief and its aftermath. Their findings suggest that debtor countries receive clear economic benefits in the five years following debt relief, casting doubt on the notion that credit events cast a long shadow on the economic prospects of nations.

The authors conclude:

The crisis exit in both [the 1920s and the 1980s] episodes came only after deep face value debt write-offs had been implemented, in particular after the debt cancellations of 1934 and the Brady debt relief initiative of 1990. These experiences speak to the current debate concerning countries such as Greece and Ukraine.

Have you read?
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Author: Tomas Hirst is editorial director and co-founder of Pieria magazine and was previously commissioning editor, digital content at the World Economic Forum. His work has been featured in The Times, the Guardian, Prospect Magazine, the Financial Times and Quartz.

Image: A Businesswoman is silhouetted as she makes her way under the Arche de la Defense, in the financial district west of Paris, November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

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