March 21, 2006
Supply or demand? And does it matter?

This article describes the lack of black economists at the nation's top colleges.

It seems that the author of the article has little clue about the academic job market for economists:

The dearth of black economists teaching at the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities may not be explained by the fact that there are no qualified African Americans. About 20 blacks each year win a Ph.D. in economics.

I thought Ph.D's were "earned" not "won," but I digress. The May 2005 AER reports that there were 505 degrees awarded from July 2003-June 2004 (p. 524). Therefore 20 black PhDs per year would represent approximately 4% of all degrees awarded. The article admits to undercounting the number of black economists at the top schools (how convenient) and also admits that many black economists head to the government and private sector. The same issue of the AER (p. 503) reports that there were 1,472 new academic jobs advertised in the Job Openings for Economists. There is no indication how many of these jobs were for junior faculty, but let's assume all jobs were for junior faculty, all PhDs are treated equally, and jobs are equally distributed across all schools. If ten to fifteen black economists entered the academic labor pool, they would account for between .6%-1.02% of all potential jobs. If 1.6% or so faculty slots at the top 30 schools are filled by black economists, is this evidence of statistical discrimination?

However, the whole discussion avoids the nature of the academic economics market. Not all Ph.D.s are created equal. Period. Paragraph. Let's face it, there are no University of Georgia Ph.D.s teaching at Harvard - none, zip, nada. Is this evidence of regionalism or the fact that my alma mater doesn't train economists as well as, say, Cal-Berkely? The question is not how many black economists there are, but how many graduated from the top ten programs, from which the top thirty schools select their junior faculty.

After the admission of the rather thin supply of black economists, we are then presented with what has become the sine qua non of any debate that includes race:

Professor Gregory Price of Jackson State University says that in his view the near total absence of blacks on the economics faculty at our nation's leading universities "reflects deliberate racial exclusion." Professor Price told JBHE that the exclusion of blacks from academic economics "is absurd given that most institutions in our society have at least given some lip service to the ideals of affirmative action."
That's constructive.

Therefore any quality-quantity tradeoff is per se evidence of racism? This bad logic is, unfortunately, offered support:

Professor William A. Darity Jr., a highly published economist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says there are two main reasons for the small numbers of black faculty in economics departments. "First, the presumption remains stronger among economists than other social scientists that blacks are genetically or culturally deficient..."
I cannot speak for the entire field, although Prof. Darity, et al., evidently feel obligated and capable of doing so (Darity and colleagues recently posited that any statistical analysis that fails to find evidence of discrimination is de facto racist.). However, after ten years in my department I haven't heard the first word about "genetic" or "cultural" deficiency. I have heard the term "poorly trained" attributed to job applicants, but by definition we don't know (and cannot inquire) about the race of job applicants. I am not at a top thirty program, so maybe there is a cabal at those schools. However, here at the middle of the mountain I don't see a cabal at work.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:00 PM in Economics


There are similar patterns in the Finance discipline. Back in the late 1990s I was involved with a group known as the "Ph.D. project", which a "Big 6" accounting firm had started with the goal of increasing minority representation (both African American and "other" minorities) among business school faculty. I remember a statistic that at the time, there were only 40 or 50 African American finance faculty across the country (and many of them had degrees in Econ, not finance).

However, at the same time, there were only 40 minority finance Ph.D. candidates in the country (again, that includes non-African American candidates). So, there was a scarcity of candidates (and this was for ALL schools, nit just top programs).

I know of one program that has exploited this fact, and admitted a significant number of minority students into their program, since they feel that if they're at all qualified, they can place them at reasonable schools.

Posted by: The Unknown Professor at March 22, 2006 07:34 PM

Prof Depkens remarks while provocative, are all too commonly offered to justify the racial status quo. Do invoke "poorly trained" merely adds to the confusion, as this too is more than likely a description disproportionatly applied to black candidates.

I happen to know that Depken is at UT-Arlington--a school that has never hired a black economist as well. So, why not rationalize that of those on the list identified in the JBHE and in my database--they are not simply "well-trained" enough to be on the economics faculty at UT-Arlington.

My institution, Jackson State has 9 black economists--no other institution in Mississippi can rival this----somthing is amiss.


Posted by: Greg Price at March 31, 2006 10:52 AM

Prof Depken:

I would like to make additional, and perhaps clarifying responses to your insights on the dearth of black economists on economics faculties.

First let say that for sake of argument, I will make you a Straw man. No personal offense intended, as I do not know you, and assume you are a gentleman, and fine human being.

Your neoclasical logic certainly makes sense--if it were applicable---I think it is not. The underrrepresentation of black economists suggest that there is a "distaste" for them on economics faculties. If you will---racial preferences are not homogenenous across departments as would be needed to get the competitive outcomes you seem to allude to.

I will also presume that you are as "smug" in your whiteness as I am in my blackness. Both of us seek explanations of the status quo that rationalizes what we see, and our models/analytics will be biased as such (Are economists value-free?) Both of us can construct narratives, models, and empirics that explain why over a 109 year period, the typical Ph.D granting program in economics has no black faculty. Moreover if we extend it, we can also explain why regional programs like UT-Arlington, fare worst then the top 5 programs with respect to black economics faculty.

As for Harvard not hiring Georiga Ph.D's...sure, I will concede that. However, Harvard, and the top 5 programs in general have a track record of hiring black economists. In fact it is places like Georgia that do not hire black economists. Nor to similar institutions (e.g, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana--all states with high black populations).

Regional programs like UT-Arlingtion seem equally hostile to black economists. To invoke "quality of training" arguments is a ruse, and does not explain why places like Georgia, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio,..etc..refuse to hire black economists. Does one need a Ph.D from MIT to work at UT-Arlington? Or is that the standard for blacks, as whites do not trust the cognitive abilities of black economists unless they have been vetted by whites at MIT?

We obviously disagree on what explains the facts Prof. Depken. I am confident that at most one of us is correct.


Posted by: Greg Price at April 1, 2006 08:23 AM

Nice site

Posted by: stacey-keebler at April 30, 2006 06:16 PM

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