The growing issue within Economics A-level is an under-representation of women. Whilst 1 in 10 students take A-level Economics, the demographic behind this figure is distorted: 1 in 6 boys take Economics at A-level, whilst the equivalent figure for girls is 1 in 17. [1]

70% of entries into A-level Economics are from males, and 23% of male Economics A-level students go on to study it at university, compared to just 16% of females.[2] This imbalance in uptake is not down to an imbalance in understanding or a knowledge gap, but rather down to a tendency from girls to avoid Economics.

If trends like this continue, as Advani & Griffith & Smith put it succinctly, “The future of UK Economics is looking predominantly male.”[3] This begs the question: why are girls not studying Economics more?

Why is this a problem?

In the long run, a lack of gender diversity at Economics A-Level will transfer into Economics professions. Some have argued that a lack of diversity could stifle creativity while also misrepresenting society in positions of power at the heart of policymaking.[4]

Female economists have produced some ground-breaking theories. For example, Stephanie Kelton’s “Modern Monetary Theory” provides illuminating insights for financial constraints on government spending. Economics could be damaging itself from developing if it does not attract the brightest and the best. Not to mention huge influx of women into the field recently which many have missed; Diane Coyle, Kate Raeworth and even Joan Robinson’s theorems.

Furthermore, a lack of diversity could contribute to inequalities in opportunity and pay since Economics' professions offer some of the highest paying jobs. It is therefore promising to see that this lack of diversity is beginning to be recognised. The Royal Economic Society (RES) introduced a 3-year campaign to increase diversity in Economics, known as the #DiscoverEconomics initiative aiming to attract more women and minority groups to study the subject at University. [5]

What are some of the barriers?

The option to study Economics at A-level is not available at every school, with only around half of non-selective state schools offering the subject, in comparison to 77% of independent schools and 83% of grammar Schools.[6]

It is not surprising then to find that Economics A-level is male dominated when grammar schools that offer the subject are predominantly filled with boys, and non-selective state schools that do no not offer the subject are disproportionately filled with more girls. This infers that the issue of Economics A-Level being gendered is less so to do with the subject itself, but rather with the individual access to study the course.

It is important to remember that it is not the nature or content of Economics that is responsible for its gendered appearance at A-Level. Rather, it is the quality of teaching. The “reduction in specialist economics training places available as a result of the shift from HEI-led ITT to school-led provision” has limited the pool of potential trainee Economics teachers.[7]

Moreover, many post graduate Economists do not chose teaching as an initial profession. Many pursue other career trajectories, such as finance, banking, industry, or insurance. With such a lack of supply, this will of course lead to a shortage of Economics teachers in the market.

Simply put, shoving an non-Economics specialist into an Economics classroom (from say, Geography, Business or a History background) means that there is a lack of nuanced Economics teaching.

The lack of specialist Economics teachers could have a particular impact on girls as research has found girls are far more concerned and put-off study by the quality of teaching in general than boys.[8]

What should we do?

We can speculate endlessly upon whether the gender imbalance in Economics A-level is due to an integrated belief in society that Economics is a male-orientated subject that females have a genuine tendency to avoid, or whether it is due to external gender divides such as those between state and independent schools.

I believe these speculations (to a certain extent) are pointless when answering this question. Economics at A-level has become a subject where one gender is excessively represented (male) and one is under-represented gender (female), which by nature defines it as gendered, and all appropriate responses should thus consider it as so.

The issue of gendered representation extends to other STEM subjects and patterns in post-qualification progression. For example, the number of women in FTSE positions of power or creating new starts ups in Fin-tech. Until we stop gendering children from an early age (girls play with pink toys, boys blue), men will continue to have blue jobs (Economics being one of them, as well as finance, STEM and actuary). At the same time, women will be covertly encouraged to select pink professions (such as teaching, social work).

We need to encourage girls that Economics and other subjects are ‘for them’ as much as they are ‘for’ anyone else. The issue can be partly tackled at home, with parents, TV, social media and changing the gender stereotypes we have imbibed from infancy. We also need more positive role models from within the profession, more specialist teachers in classrooms, and a greater emphasis on building girls’ confidence to pursue their academic ambitions.

[1] Advani. A & Griffith. R & Smith. S (2019): “Economics in the UK has a diversity problem that starts in schools and colleges”. CEPR.  [Accessed: 19/01/2022]

[2] Butler. D (2021): “Does Under-Representation of Women in the Economics Profession Start in School”. EBEA. Available: Does Under-Representation of Women in the Economics Profession Start in School? – EBEA  [Accessed: 20/01/2022]

[3] Advani et al. (2019).

[4] Advani et al. (2019).

[5] Royal Economic Society (2021): Discover Economics [Accessed 20/01/2022]

[6] Butler (2021).

[7] Butler (2021).

[8] Cassidy. R & Cattan. S & Crawford. C & Dytham. S (2018): “How can we increase girls’ uptake of maths and physics A-level? - Institute For Fiscal Studies - IFS” [Accessed: 15/01/2022]