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  • Sophia Rebolledo

Why does race matter in the study of economics?

Updated: Dec 16, 2020



In today’s society, Black economists are severely underrepresented in the field of economics in which only about 3% of economists are Black. While only 17% of Black economists agree that they feel respected within the field, nearly half of Black economists say they have experienced discrimination in the profession.

As new research quantifies and identifies the impact of closing the racial gap and the main sources of socioeconomic inequities, report from McKinsey & Company states if the racial wealth gap is not closed between white and black Americans, the U.S. economy could lose $1-$1.5 trillion in consumption and investment if racial wealth gap doesn't narrow by 2028, 4-6 percent of the projected GDP in 2028.

Race does not only matter for the study of economics. Race matters for our understanding of the economy as well as how economic policy makers are informed and therefore how national economic policies are created. Only a diminutive share of research papers, especially at the top economics journals, actually study race and racial discrimination. Out of the almost 14,000 research papers published between 1990 and 2018, only 105 of those papers explicitly tested for different kinds of discrimination, including racial discrimination. When we have a lack of representation, this means there is a lack of perspectives making economic policies catered to only that particular group which essentially affects everyone else who are not white males.

The Catch-22 is if economics does not accept more approaches to studying inequality, then the field will not attract economists of color who want to use those approaches in which without more economists of color, there will be limited voices inside the profession who are pushing to accept new approaches.

The effects of the lack of representation of genders and racial groups in everyday life is clearly evident in today’s data. When economists initially were trying to understand racial inequality, they started to think about the differences in skill sets as they argued if there's racial inequality, then it's probably because Black people have, on average, not as much training or education as white people. However, when comparing the income of a white family with the head lacking a high school diploma to a black family where the head had a college degree, the white family still was proven to have more overall wealth. This study shows that even when Black people do get the same skill sets as white people, they still fall far behind. The racial inequalities we continue to see today make it vital to publish more studies on racism in the study of economics as well as push for more representation in economists.

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