As Esther Duflo wins the Nobel Prize in economics, here’s the uphill battle women face in the field

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And the world’s most prestigious economics award goes to … “wife.”

This year’s Nobel Prize in economics went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and Harvard University professor Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”

The trio of laureates has broken down the unwieldy issue of global poverty into more manageable and precise questions, engineering field experiments targeted at the groups most affected, the Nobel committee said. Their approach has helped determine which interventions work to impact health and educational outcomes, the committee said, and has “completely reshaped” development economics research over the past two decades.

But Duflo, 46, the second woman and youngest-ever recipient of the economic sciences prize, earned a stream of fierce defenders on social media Monday after a major business publication seemed to downplay her accomplishments — mirroring the indignities that women in economics have long faced. “Indian-American MIT Prof Abhijit Banerjee and wife wins Nobel in Economics,” read the headline of a story by India’s Economic Times.

(The story later appeared to have been updated with a new headline including all of the recipients’ names: “Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer win Nobel in Economics.” Much of the article currently focuses on Banerjee and Duflo.)

“Awful journalism from @EconomicTimes, which is India’s largest selling business and economics newspaper, on today’s @NobelPrize in Economics to Esther Duflo,” tweeted Raju Narisetti, a professor at Columbia Journalism School. “All they had to do was to not write a stupid headline on the wires story they picked up.”

“This is awful, @EconomicTimes. Excited about Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel but mention Esther Duflo as ‘wife,’” wrote CNN associate producer Aditi Sangal. “She is an accomplished economist. Name her.”

“Her name is Esther Duflo. She is the youngest woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. AND only the second woman to do so. And still the @EconomicTimes doesn’t think she be called anything other than ‘wife,’” added lawyer Prachi Tadsare.

The Economic Times and its parent company, Times Internet, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Duflo, 46, acknowledged in a phone interview released alongside the announcement that she was the second woman to be awarded the prize in 50 years — and the only one still living. The first was Elinor Ostrom, who won in 2009 and died three years later.

“Hopefully, it’s onward and forward from now on,” Duflo said. “I think it does reflect the fact that there are not enough women in the economics profession, period.”

Women are too scarce at all levels, she said: as economics graduate students, assistant professors and beyond. A 2017 Federal Reserve Board study found that women made up just 31% of economics majors between 2011 and 2015, compared to 57% of all majors.

The field of economics has long been viewed as inhospitable to women. A professional climate survey conducted by the nonprofit, non-partisan American Economic Association, released last month, concluded that women in the field were far more likely to experience discrimination on the basis of sex. “But women are also substantially more likely to experience discrimination based on marital status/caregiving responsibilities, age, place of employment, and based on research topics,” the report said.

What’s more, it added, “female respondents are also much more likely to report having experienced discrimination or unfair treatment as students with regard to access to research assistantships, access to advisors, access to quality advising, and on the job market.”

The report further found that over the past 10 years, nearly six in 10 female economists felt that the subject or methodology of their research wasn’t taken as seriously as those of their colleagues. Some 43% of female economists reported that a colleague had displayed “inappropriate sexual or suggestive materials,” made offensive sexual remarks, or made gestures of a sexual nature.

Even worse, 3% indicated they had been sexually assaulted by another economist or economics student, while 6% said they had been the victim of an attempted assault.

The status quo for women in economics “is going to change,” Duflo predicted, even if that change isn’t happening quickly enough.

“I think the profession is starting to realize that … the general climate and the way we treat each other is not conducive for having more women in the profession,” she said. “It’s not just about promotion, but it’s about the general environment and how people talk to each other and address each other in seminars and things like that.”