Gender and Policymaking

By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig

I have tried to make it a habit to write down quotes or sentences I like. A good sentence can be awe-inspiring for sure, but it can also serve to create a frame for an entire thought process that is quite complicated and nuanced. For example, I recently wrote down this sentence from Matthew Yglesias, a Slate magazine blogger: Part of the essence of privilege is that it is invisible to the privileged… It was part of a post entitled, “The Economics Gender Gap.”

The Slate blog post and the USA Today story it was based upon, “He Said She Said: Economists’ View Differ by Gender,” both address a recent survey of economists conducted through the American Economics Association. The survey found that women viewed economic policies quite differently than their male counterparts. Consider the following findings:

— Health insurance. Female economists thought employers should be required to provide health insurance for full-time workers: 40% in favor to 37% against, with the rest offering no opinion. By contrast, men were strongly against the idea: 21% in favor and 52% against.

— Education. Females narrowly opposed taxpayer-funded vouchers that parents could use for tuition at a public or private school of their choice. Male economists love the idea: 61% to 14%.

— Labor standards. Females believe 48% to 33% that trade policy should be linked to labor standards in foreign countries. Males disagreed: 60% to 23%.

There were areas that men and women agreed upon, but in the three areas above and in the area of career mobility/compensation, the differences were pretty stark. It made me wonder how different the world of public policy would be if there were more, or at least an equal proportion of, women in positions of power. If you accept that men benefit from some level of unsaid and unseen privilege by virtue of their gender and society’s expectations of their gender, it is probably safe to conclude that this has affected the creation of public policy.

At the Fed, the last four years have seen quite a dramatic uptick in leadership positions for women. Four of the twelve voting members of our 2012 monetary policy committee, the FOMC, are women. I don’t think there has ever been a year with this many women on the committee.

How different would policy or the study of economics be with different representation? How important is it to acknowledge and address that which is invisible to the privileged among us?