In an ongoing heated debate on sexism in the economic profession, sparked by an analysis by Alice Wu of sexist speech in an anonymous online forum, economists see themselves accused of discrimination against women in the profession. Indeed, female professors are scarce. Although the share of female students enrolling in graduate programs has increased over the last decades, the proportion of women who continue their careers in academia remains low.
A new IZA discussion paper contributes to this discussion by providing empirical evidence on gender bias in academia, this time studying how economics and business students evaluate female teachers different from their male counterparts.
Using data on about 20,000 evaluations of instructors from the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University, a leading business school in Europe, Friederike Mengel, Jan Sauermann and Ulf Zölitz demonstrate a systematic bias against women in end-of-class teaching evaluations.
Relying on random assignment of students to instructors teaching within the same type of courses, the authors pin down the causal impact of instructor gender on evaluations, grades and future performance.
The results are worrying. Female faculty receive systematically lower teaching evaluations than their male colleagues despite the fact that neither students’ current or future grades nor the effort they put into studying are affected by the gender of the instructor.
The lower teaching evaluations of female faculty stem mostly from male students, but female students also tend to give lower evaluations to their female teachers, albeit to a lower degree. Strikingly, even text books and other teaching material, such as the online learning platform – clearly independent of the gender of the teacher – receive lower evaluations if a course is taught by a female teacher.
In the competitive world of academia, student evaluations are an important and frequently used assessment criterion for faculty performance. Gender bias in teaching evaluations affects hiring, tenure and promotion decisions and, thus, is likely to have a strong impact on career progression of women in academia.