Please decide how you perceive Dr. Goldin in each of the following sentences:
“Lawrence Katz, a professor at Harvard and a leading scholar of education economics, co-wrote a paper a few years ago with Claudia Goldin…”
“Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, both professors at Harvard and leading scholars of education economics, co-wrote a famous paper a few years ago in which they pointed out…”
Planet Money journalist Adam Davidson initially used the first sentence in a NY Times Magazine article but then replaced it with the second one and apologized to Dr. Goldin.
Where are we going? To expectations bias.
Second Billing for Female Economists
In economic research, co-authors are listed in alphabetical order and assumed to have contributed equally. Only when one author does more than the other(s) will that person’s name move out of the traditional sequence and precede the others.
The press though usually ignores the proper author sequence. Referring to a paper co-written by Anne Case, an esteemed Princeton economist and her husband Angus Deaton, Princeton Nobel laureate, they cited Deaton first.
This is a screen shot from an academic journal of the paper’s title and its authors:
Seeing that Deaton was named first by the press, you could say the reason was his Nobel award. However, in a NY Times Upshot column, economist Justin Wolfers convinces us with a host of examples that what happened to Dr. Case is the rule rather than the exception. Citing his own experience, Dr. Wolfers recalled that Anne Marie Slaughter in her article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” slighted his significant other Betsey Stevenson, then chief economist at the Department of Labor, by naming her as the second author of a paper she had written with him.
On the paper, their names appeared in alphabetical order:
The problem? When a female scholar’s work is inaccurately depicted as less than a male’s, her status diminishes and so too do our expectations.
Our Bottom Line: Expectations Bias
Less scholarly images of women could be shaping our behavior when they create an expectations bias. Shown by the following experiment, what we expect can determine what we believe.
During a 1960s lab experiment, Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal falsely labeled average rodents as either smart or dumb. Because his students seemed to have an affinity for the rats they assumed were smart, they handled them more frequently and more gently. Since touch affects a rat’s behavior, the “smart” ones not only outperformed the “dumb” ones but also were tamer, cleaner, more pleasant and more likable. Dr. Rosenthal concluded that his students had demonstrated an expectations bias that affected their subsequent attitude.
Similarly, whenever the press lists a male economist as lead author instead of the female economist who belongs there, that journalist is reflecting and reinforcing an expectations bias that stops female economists from getting the credit they deserve.