Back to the full list of BSE Insights

Few top positions in economics are held by women

By Virginia Sondergeld (DIW Berlin), Philip Hanspach (European University Institute) and Jess Palka (University Duisburg-Essen)

Gender imbalances and a lack of diversity in economics are the centre of current discussions in the profession and are increasingly researched. In academic institutions, gender gaps in representation increase with the seniority of positions in the United States (Goldin et al., 2019) and Europe (Auriol et al., 2019). Furthermore, studies have found barriers to economics careers that disproportionately affect women in academia, such as a lack of role models (Porter & Serra, 2020) and different credit received for group work (Sarsons et al., 2020). As public debate about fair representation continues and evidence regarding the causes and consequences grows, The Women in Economics Initiative (WiE) seeks to foster constructive dialogue across the profession.

Senior economists in political, financial, trade and development institutions exercise considerable influence on business decisions and policy making. Examining the balance of representation in these positions therefore has implications that extend beyond personal career aspirations.

To this end, the annual WiE Index monitors the representation of women economists in leadership positions across the academic, private and public sectors globally. In a column for VoxEU, we have summarized the results of the WiE Index 2020, finding that women economists continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions.

The academic pillar of the WiE Index is computed using three indicators. First, among the top 100 authors of economics literature for the last ten years as ranked by RePEc, we find that 5% are women. Second, in the top 25% of think tanks according to RePEc, 21% of leadership positions are held by women. Finally, among the top 25 economics departments from the QS World University Ranking 2020, we find 20% of faculty members across all levels to be women.

For the private sector, we use the Fortune 500 ranking to identify the share of women employed as chief economists at the largest banks (20%), insurance companies (9%) and companies by revenue (22%). We use publicly available information, before reaching out to all companies in our sample to confirm our findings.

For the public sector, we determine the share of women among central bank governors (8%) and ministers of finance (11%) in 179 countries, as listed by the Bank for International Settlements. Furthermore, we record the average share of women among economic advisory councils advising national governments (25%). Finally, we consider 20 key international economic institutions, such as the International Labor Organization and the World Trade Organization, finding that 32% of chief economists (or equivalent positions) are women.

The results of the WiE Index motivate further reflection on the reasons and potential remedies for the low representation of women in economics leadership positions. In line with recent discussions, many institutions have started developing policies to increase diversity and promote women’s careers. The European Central Bank has set gender targets for management roles for 2020-2026 and launched a scholarship program for women economists. Evaluating the effectiveness of such measures and identifying best practices that can be transferred to other institutions requires further research. Such open, evidence-based discussions will continue to spur equal opportunity practices within the profession, and representative policy-making in the future.


Auriol, E., Friebel, G., & Wilhelm, S. (2019). Women in European economics. Retrieved from

Goldin, C., Guerrieri, V., & Voena, A. (2019, May 29). Why are there so few women economists? Chicago Booth Review. Retrieved from

Porter, C., & Serra, D. (2020). Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 12(3), 226-254.

Sarsons, H., Gërxhani, K., Reuben, E., & Schram, A. (2020). Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work. Journal of Political Economy.

Back to the full list of BSE Insights