The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked outrage across the world. The Black Lives Matter protests that followed brought the issues facing ethnic minority individuals to the top of the global news agenda. It also led many organisations to ask themselves what they are doing to tackle racial injustice.

How does this relate to economics? 

Academic economics has had its own reckoning, with discussions about what we teach (Alves and Kvangraven 2021, Charles 2021), how we teach (Bayer et al. 2020a) and who is represented (Advani et al. 2019, 2020, Bayer et al. 2020b, Koffi and Wantchekon 2021).

As a result, in August 2020, the Econometric Society World Congress convened a panel event to ask: “What can economics do for racial justice?” One answer was that alongside the tentative advances in teaching and representation, economists need to study the causes and consequences of racial inequality (Charles 2021, Cook 2021). In a recent study, we examine how much economists have actually been doing this (Advani et al. 2021). 

Have economists been improving representation? 

Using data from over 225,000 academic publications by economists over a 60-year period (1960–2020), we determine what share of research can be classified as ‘race-related’. We develop an algorithm to automatically classify a publication as ‘race-related’ if it contains a group keyword such as ‘African-American’ and a topic keyword such as ‘discrimination’ in the title or abstract.  This combination of keywords helps remove false positives (where, for example, a theory publication studying an ‘arms race’ is picked up as race-related). 

We compare this data to two other social science disciplines: sociology and political science. Both disciplines are similar to economics, covering a broad range of issues, but with different methodological approaches. Economics produces far less race-related research in terms of both the absolute number of publications and the share of publications that are race-related. In political science, the share of race-related publications is more than twice that of economics; and in sociology, it is around six times as high.

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Related discussions at The Mint: Nigella Vigorosso-Heck looks into why girls are ‘shunning’ economics. Henry Leveson-Gower explains why women are so often ignored in economic analysis

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