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Male-dominated Editorial Boards

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Today, let’s talk about the representation of women on the editorial boards of economics journals. Why is this important? One, these are prestigious professional positions, so gender equity is important for its own sake. Two, we have plenty of evidence from other contexts that female leaders have a role model effect on junior women. Three, female editors make systematically different editorial decisions. For example, Bransch and Kvasnicka (2022) analyzed data on articles published in the top-5 economics journals during 1981-2018 and found that a) women accounted for only 5.5% of all editors during the observation period and b) lower female representation on editorial boards is negatively associated with the share of articles that are (co-)authored by a woman. There is a large literature showing that female leaders/ politicians/ managers make different choices than their male counterparts; so, it is reasonable to expect that this might be the case for economics publishing as well, especially given the gender differences in field specialization.


What does data reveal?

I decided to focus on a list of 30 journals in economics comprised of the top-5,[1] 10 second tier of “general interest” journals,[2] 10 “top-field” journals,[3] and 5 “lower-ranked” development journals.[4] The editorial boards are organized in different ways across journals and vary substantially in terms of the number of editors. For instance, the American Economic Review has one Editor, 13 Coeditors, and 63 individuals on their Board of Editors. In comparison, the Review of Economic Studies has one Chair, 6 individuals on the Board of Directors, 9 Joint Managing Editors, 47 Editorial Board Members, and 19 Foreign Editors. For simplicity, I distinguish between three tiers of editors (based on the order in which they are listed on a journal’s website), and exclude individuals listed as advisory board members, data editors, journal managers, production editors, etc. Note that I use a binary definition of gender (male or female) where I assign gender based on a researcher’s photos and/or name. So, my gender variable may have some measurement error and will also misclassify non-binary individuals.


  • The journals that I analyzed have 1,259 editors in total, 30% of whom are female. However, there is substantial variation across journals—for instance, only 3% of all editors at the Journal of Economic Theory are female (all belonging to Tier-3), whereas for World Development and EDCC, this share is 67% and 50%, respectively. Figure 1 displays the spread across all journals.


Figure 1

share of women among all editors







  • Women occupy a smaller share of all tiers than men.[5] Women’s shares among Tier-1, Tier-2, and Tier-3 editors are, respectively, 23%, 36%, and 28%.


  • Conditional on being an editor, the distribution of male and female editors across tiers is quite similar. For example, only 5% of all male editors are Tier-1 and 3% of all female editors are Tier-1. In fact, a slightly larger share of female editors belongs to Tier-2 (31% of all female editors) than male editors (24% of all male editors.


  • Only 8 of the 30 journals, i.e., 27%, have a woman in their topmost editorial position, such as Editor-in-Chief, Lead Editor, Chair, or the Editor. Often this position is occupied by one or two individuals, but in some cases, such as the QJE, Journal of Health Economics, and the Journal of Development Studies, the number of Tier-1 editors is higher.


  • Among development journals, the top-field journal, Journal of Development Economics (JDE), performs relatively poorly, with only a 20% representation of women among its editors. Even among Tier-2 and Tier-3 editors, this share is 27% and 20% at the JDE. All other development journals fare better than the JDE, with World Development and EDCC leading all other journals that I examined.


  • Given the small number of Tier-1 editors, perhaps Tier-2 is where we should look more closely. Again, there is substantial variation across journals. On one extreme, JET and JEBO have no Tier-2 female editors—although it must be pointed out that JEBO’s two top editors are both female. On the other end, we have World Development with 70% of its Tier-2 editors being female.


Figure 2

share of women among tier2 editors







  • Among the top-5 journals, there is only one Tier-1 editor who is female (at QJE). But Econometrica stands out with 57% representation of women in Tier-2 positions, comfortably ahead of JPE (23%), ReStud (27%), QJE (28%), and AER (38%).


What explains this lack of female representation on editorial boards?

One possible explanation is that there are too few women in senior positions within the economics profession. Kleemans and Thornton (2023) show that in 2020 there were more than 2,000 male Associate or Full Professors in a sample of 192 PhD-granting and non-PhD-granting institutions in the United States. In comparison, the number of female Associate or Full Professors was less than 400 (i.e., less than 17%). Gender differences in the field of specialization are also likely to matter and could perhaps explain the low share of women in the Journal of Economic Theory, for instance, if men are overrepresented in the field of economic theory.

Given these “supply-side” constraints, increasing female representation on editorial boards may impose an additional burden on the limited number of tenured female professors, with some of them serving on multiple editorial boards. The gender gap in access to elite networks can exacerbate this burden on the small number of women who are part of these networks. E.g., Chari and Goldsmith-Pinkham 2018 examine NBER membership over time and find that only 21 percent of all NBER members were female in 2018.

Of course, editors in economics journals do not have to come only from economics departments in the United States. There are several editors on existing boards from business and policy schools, research departments in non-academic institutions, and from other countries. For instance, 52 percent of the editors at Econometrica are from a non-economics department (e.g., a business school), or a non-academic institution (e.g., the Fed), or another country. Thus, the pool of “potential” female editors is larger and should perhaps be better utilized if we want to proactively improve women’s representation in these custodian positions.


To conclude

My quick analysis has left me with more questions than answers. While the data clearly show that women comprise a minority of all editors, are women in fact over-represented on the editorial boards relative to their share in senior positions? If this is the case, what explains why some journals have substantially more women on their editorial boards than others, even within the same field? What explains the variation within the top-5 journals? Can we make space for more women by prohibiting individuals from serving on multiple editorial boards at the same time? Do we need quotas like those utilized for political positions and corporate board membership?

Perhaps some journals are already proactively trying to diversify their boards and are more likely to appoint female editors? This is akin to what Card et al 2022 find for the selection of Fellows of the Econometric Society—conditional on achievement, women (non-US individuals) are more likely to be selected than men (US individuals) during 2010-2019. If so, it would be great to hear more about it from their editorial boards.  

While a systematic and rigorous analysis of female representation on journal editorial boards is beyond the scope of this blog, my hope is to encourage us to examine the data and trends more thoroughly, analyze the underlying causal factors, and come up with effective solutions, if any.


I am grateful to Amadou Jallow for assisting me with the data analysis.


[1] American Economic Review, Econometrica, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economic Studies.

[2] Review of Economics and Statistics, Journal of European Economic Association, Economic Journal, AER: Insights, AEJ: Micro, JPE: Micro, AEJ: Macro, JPE: Macro, AEJ: Applied, AEJ: Policy.

[3] Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Labor Economics, Journal of Human Resources, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Journal of Monetary Economics, Journal of International Economics, Journal of Econometrics, Journal of Health Economics, Journal of Economic Theory.

[4] Economic Development and Cultural Change, World Development, World Bank Economic Review, Journal of Development Studies, World Bank Research Observer.

[5] As expected, Tier-1 editors comprise a small proportion (5%) of all editors, followed by Tier-2 editors (26%) and Tier-3 editors (69%).

S Anukriti

Senior Economist, Development Research Group

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