On “Socioeconomic Roots of Academic Faculty”

From the paper:

Tenure-track faculty play a special role in society: they train future researchers, and they  produce much of the scholarship that drives scientific, technological, and social innovation.  However, the professoriate has never been demographically representative of the general  population it serves. For example in the United States, Black and Hispanic scholars are  underrepresented across the tenure-track, and while women’s representation has increased  over time, they remain a minority in many academic fields. Here we investigate the  representativeness of faculty childhood socioeconomic status and whether it may implicitly limit eorts to diversify the professoriate in terms of race, gender, and geography. Using a  survey of 7218 professors in PhD-granting departments in the United States across eight  disciplines in STEM, social sciences, and the humanities, we find that the estimated
median childhood household income among faculty is 23.7% higher than the general public,  and faculty are 25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD. Moreover, the proportion of faculty with PhD parents nearly doubles at more prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years. Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible mainly to the socioeconomically privileged. This lack of socioeconomic diversity is likely to deeply shape the type of scholarship and scholars that faculty produce and train.

The researchers did not survey the economics field, but one can guess that some of the same tendencies apply to the economics discipline. Bayer and Rouse (2016) some aspects of the economics field, but not specifically parental impacts.

In any case, my suspicion is that should we have people of more varying backgrounds of all types, we’d probably have more varied views on the way the world works.

37 thoughts on “On “Socioeconomic Roots of Academic Faculty”

  1. JohnH

    For the people writing the laws that brought the New Deal into being, “over and over again, Wisconsin played this critical role in laying the political groundwork, providing the technical expertise and providing the actual matching legislation to help create, work out the details and implement the New Deal,” [ David] Riemer says. “It’s a remarkable history.” https://wisconsinexaminer.com/2020/06/26/a-pitch-to-biden-takes-cues-from-fdr-and-wisconsin/

    Now it seems that the initiative has moved to Berkeley: “ In recent years, economics has grown more concerned about inequality and how to fix it. The instigators of this epochal progressive shift ply their trade at UC Berkeley.” https://prospect.org/economy/berkeley-school-economics/

    Could demographics and the resulting decrease in prominence of LaFollette farm-labor progressive thinking be at least partially responsible for UW Madison’s eventually being eclipsed by Berkeley?

    Reply
    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      JohnH: Personally, I think it’s California’s greater commitment to supporting higher education and popular support for research in all dimensions. (Think by comparison never-graduated-from-college Scott Walker.)

      Reply
      1. pgl

        President Biden noted how government R&D in the US has dropped from 2% of GDP to only 0.7% of GDP. Build back better intends to reverse this decline.

        Reply
      2. Barkley Rosser

        JohnH,

        I shall add that the defunding of UW faculty by the state government in Wisconsin has been going on for a long time. When I was a grad student there half a century ago I used to hear jokes from faculty about the value of the view of Lake Mendota from then-Social Science Building (now Sewall Hall). It was supposedly $3000 a year the gap between what they were getting and faculty at equivalent schools were getting . That gap has only grown since, and Menzie is right that GOP Gov. Scott Walker really went after UW budgets with a sledgehammer. Frankly it is amazing things have not gotten worse than they have.

        And they have gotten worse. When I was there UW-Madison was in the top ten econ depts (barely), with Berkeley about 6th and the only other department being at a public institution. Berkeley is now about 3rd or 4th while UW-Madison is struggling to be in the top 20. Kind of missing your shot going after the department, which does still have the Institute for Research on Poverty, so it is not like they have given up on studying inequality, or at least poverty.

        Reply
        1. JohnH

          Higher education generally has been hit by funding cuts…in California as well as Wisconsin. It may be that UW has suffered more that most, though I suspect that changing focus and priorities may also have contributed. IMO Wisconsin is just not as progressive as it was back in LaFollette, Jr’s day, so the shift in the university’s culture, reflecting its environment, would not be surprising.

          Reply
  2. Barkley Rosser

    I do not remember the source, but I have read that in Britain in the mid-10th century to early 20th century, a disproportionate number of academic economists came from a family background where the father was a cleric.

    As it is, my late father had a PhD, but both of my mother’s grandfathers were clerics.

    Reply
  3. sammy

    “Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible mainly to the socioeconomically privileged.”

    Well, well, well. And I don’t doubt this extends to government, which also relies on academia for its policies. So we are governed by a bunch of people that have little or no experience with the challenges that the majority of the governed face and therefore so often have poor prescriptions for how to improve things.

    This is an argument to reduce the power of the state and for the idea that “I’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book that by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty,”

    Reply
    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      sammy: gee, and maybe one could instead argue for increasing the diversity of the economics profession and government. But no, you’ll go for the giving the gov’t over to the anti-knowledge folks who want to give you hydroxychloroquine for your covid problem (on a good day…bleach on a bad day).

      By the way, neither of my parents had a PhD, and in fact neither went to college for that matter. And yet, you seem consistently disgusted by my assessments. What does that mean? Maybe *your* parents both had PhD’s?

      Reply
      1. sammy

        Menzie

        “maybe one could instead argue for increasing the diversity of the economics profession”

        Seems like you acknowledge the problem, which is a start. I would love, not be disgusted, to hear your ideas on how to get well heeled Economics Phds some real world experience, or bringing a construction or restaurant worker into the upper echelons of Economics academia. That would be a pretty good solution.

        Reply
        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          sammy: Well, I’m already in the profession, so you’ve got your wish. I’ve worked in a factory, know what it’s like for someone to work in a restaurant his entire life, had parents who were redlined by the “free market”. But, sadly, my views are much more disgusting to you. Hence, I believe giving those well heeled Econ PhD’s more real world experience would only make their assessments more disgusting to you.

          Reply
        2. noneconomist

          Sammy, you still don’t realize that quote (which you’ve mangled in various forms) comes from the elitist’s elitist, William F. Buckley Jr who, by the way, was a Yalie, not a disgruntled high school dropout who specialized in single syllable and four letter words..A blue collar, up from the seat of pants guy, he wasn’t. The family fortune was in oil. He didn’t work his way through college.
          Add to that your idol worship of an elitist New Yorker,(an Ivy Leaguer whose personal digs feature gold toilets) whose lack of business acumen has been well detailed ;None of his children have blue collar backgrounds and won’t have to worry about how they’re going to repay college loans.
          Somehow, you–the great commoner?– decided to devote yourself to a trust funder who’s presided over four bankruptcies and who has big unpaid debts soon coming due. Worse, as a supposed conservative, you were all in for someone who once hailed himself as the “King of Debt” ,who promised to lower deficits (how’d that work out? and entirely wipe out the national debt by 2024.You also happily swallowed–hook, line, and sinker–a trickled down tax cut that would pay for itself.
          So enough with your faux outrage re:disdain for educated professionals versus hard boiled common sense guys who somehow are swell decision makers. The insurrectionist Hawley is a Stanford/Yale grad.Kennedy(who tries very hard to sound like Goober Pyle) Vanderbilt/Oxford, Cruz Princeton/Harvard, DeSantis Yale/Harvard.
          Your hypocrisy–like that of your heroes– precedes you and has for quite some time.

          Reply
          1. pgl

            Man and God at Yale was Buckley’s little book where he decided no one should listen to Keynes. After all people dying during the Great Depression was just the market doing its magic according to William F. Buckley.

          2. noneconomist

            I was an avid “Firing Line” watcher for a few years. A Buckley-liberal slugfest seldom failed to disappoint.
            That said, it’s hard to see him patiently today sitting still for the antics of semi literate “conservatives” like Louie Gohmert, MT Greene, and Lauren Boebert.

        3. pgl

          “I would love, not be disgusted, to hear your ideas”

          Here’s a start Sammy – stop flapping your nonsense and just listen to our host.

          Reply
        4. pgl

          “real world experience, or bringing a construction or restaurant worker into the upper echelons of Economics academia.”

          Biden did grow up working class whereas Trump grew up with a silver spoon in his fat mouth. But maybe Sammy thinks that waitress he was always hitting on was Ivanka. Or Jared was a construction worker. Did Mitch McConnell get his start in a Kentucky coal mine? I seriously doubt it. But hey – more tax cuts for the Hampton crowd. Right Sammy?

          Reply
          1. noneconomist

            Sammy would prefer to have, say, a urologist from Western Oklahoma A&M on the Covid task force and a statistician from Southern Wyoming Tech to help out at the Fed. Their real wold experience, fer shure.

        5. baffling

          “I would love, not be disgusted, to hear your ideas on how to get well heeled Economics Phds some real world experience, or bringing a construction or restaurant worker into the upper echelons of Economics academia. That would be a pretty good solution.”
          that is why there is a push for diversity hires in academia, as well as financial support for underrepresented students in the undergraduate and graduate programs. they need the support of the institution. a well heeled economics phd does not need support to get a summer job working on a hot mix paving project-that is available to them as an intern if they so desire. most in that position do not desire. so sammy, it seems clear to me that you are in favor of diversity hire approaches-good for you!

          Reply
          1. Barkley Rosser

            Even some econ PhDs with socially elite family backgrounds have worked low paid menial jobs for periods of time for one reason or another, which at least makes them somewhat aware of the matters at hand, if not as much so as someone from a poorer less elite background is.

    2. pgl

      “So we are governed by a bunch of people that have little or no experience with the challenges that the majority of the governed face and therefore so often have poor prescriptions for how to improve things.”

      We are should be changed to we were. Over the 2017 to 2020 our governance was done by a pack of clowns who you adore but made things so much worse.

      Reply
  4. Manfred

    Says the abstract transcribed in this entry:
    “Tenure-track faculty play a special role in society: they train future researchers, and they produce much of the scholarship that drives scientific, technological, and social innovation. However, the professoriate has never been demographically representative of the general population it serves.”

    Why exactly must the professoriate be “demographically representative of the general population it serves”? Is anybody asking this question?
    So the laws of physics are different, depending on how demographically representative the professoriate is? How about math? (Oh, forget that, they already tried that one, math is racist.) Biology is different on how demographically representative the professoriate is? And Chemistry as well?
    And nobody asks these questions, and accepts all this as “sensible”?

    Reply
    1. pgl

      What da matter Manfred? You were refused a Ph.D. even though you are entitled one simply because you are a white dude? A rather stupid white dude at that.

      Reply
          1. Moses Herzog

            pgl
            It’s horrible when people won’t allow you to stereotype them isn’t it?? No doubt whatever answer Manfred gave you could manage to turn that into an insult. Why would people be upfront with you whenever they tease out personal background you turn it into a putdown?? You have a right to ask and make queries, just don’t be surprised people don’t care to divulge things to you when all you can manage is continual putdowns.

            I think you’d find it rare I gave someone a hard time about their degree or lack of a degree (you must be sad I have my bachelor’s at a mediocre state university, because that takes away your cliche insult that I “must resent anyone with a degree because you don’t have one”). I give Kopits gunk because he misleads people with his consulting titles, and makes errors that are expected from those not having their 4-year degree. Same for some others here. Education should be celebrated, not used as a score card. Menzie “gets” this (I think???), because his parents etc. My father got his Master’s when no one in his family had even gotten their bachelor’s. My Mom was also the first person to get her bachelor’s (after endless haranguing from my father, that she was indeed intelligent enough to get one. My Dad could be very insulting to those without their degree (something that bothered me about my Dad for many years).

            Having gotten older now….. I suspect my Dad did this, not because he actually looked down on those without a university degree (he worshipped his father in some aspects) but because he knew his children were “within ear shot” and was trying to hammer down the need for a university degree.

            pgl, what is your subtextual message about the value of a Master’s degree, when Menzie can figure out Manfred has his, but you can’t figure out Manfred has his Master’s or above?? Does it tell us something about the usefulness/utility of Manfred’s degree that you couldn’t pick that up, or does it tell us something about you that you couldn’t pick that up?? Just an open question.

            I’m also curious how many more comments (and hopefully of a negative nature, rather than praising him, as you did for months) you’d be making about Andrew Cuomo over the last few weeks/months had he been the Governor of say Arkansas, but hey, don’t let me interrupt your hero-worship. I think we can say this about Andrew Cuomo, but not a Mr. Menzie Chinn: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

            I think I know where you and Barkley fit in that Barry Switzer quote, but, to his credit, I don’t think Menzie fits the “some people” there that Barry Switzer was talking about. Maybe since you think you have “the right” the demand Manfred’s educational background as an argumentative device, you can tell us your parent’s socioeconomic status when you were attending your first year of college.

          2. Barkley Rosser

            Moses,

            Sigh, we know you hate my guts, but not sure why you are dragging me into this. I was indeed born on third base, if not haffway to stealing my way home. But I also paid my way through college (not all that expensive back then) due to differences with my old man and worked some seriously menial jobs along the way. But I am fully aware that at various points in my professional life my family background has aided me.

            Heck, you have fallen all over yourself on this one yourself, such as getting all on a high horse about how dare I claim to know the late Walter Rudin. Of course I knew him, from my almost to home base by stealing from third thanks to my elite background. You regularly get annoyed by me mentioning all the people I know (or knew), but a chunk of those have been indeed due to my privileged background, shame on me.

    2. pgl

      Now we all get that Manfred is more reading challenged than even Bruce Hall so let me highlight a single sentence for this troll:

      ‘Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible mainly to the socioeconomically privileged.’

      Is it Manfred’s contention that white males should get unequal access? That would go along with the rest of his odious comments.

      Or does Manfred actually believe that women are inferior to men in terms of higher education. Of course a troll like this would tell us that white dudes are clearly superior to dudes of other races.

      Which is it Manfred? We’ll wait for you to get back from your John Birch Society convention.

      Reply
    3. baffling

      “Why exactly must the professoriate be “demographically representative of the general population it serves”?”
      ever hear of the concept of diversity? do you believe that a bunch of wealthy white politicians should be the ones developing the laws for a black city? is that appropriate, or should the lawmakers be representative of the electorate? why should the professoriate be any different? is there something noble about the fact that most professors, especially in the STEM fields, are white males? even when the potential population studying to become a member of the STEM fields comes from a more diverse background? women and minorities are morel likely to be attracted to fields where the professors have similarities, not differences, with them.

      Reply
  5. Bob Flood

    Children of MDs tend to become MDs. Same for all professions. My Dad was a real estate appraiser. I worked for him summers and
    started out in that business. Send this to Journal of the Obvious.

    Reply
    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Bob Flood: Obvious, but interesting to have it quantified. Otherwise, I’d be a cook or other restaurant employee (which I have occasionally been mistaken for).

      Reply
      1. macroduck

        The thing I’m asked most often in big-box stores: “Excuse me, do you work here?”

        One another matter, it’s odd indeed that anyone should think we are governed by academics. Katy Porter and Elizabeth Warren are the only two who come immediately to mind. (And, contrary to sammy’s assertion, both seem highly aware of the troubles faced by common folk.) Mostly, we are governed by lawyers.

        If we were to be governed by those who share the concerns of average Americans, they would support higher taxes on the rich, ready access to abortion and easy access to voting in elections. Just like Porter and Warren.

        Reply
    2. baffling

      it may be obvious, but the numbers illustrate that until recently this has not been a real concern in academia. it gives credibility to the pursuit of diversity hires, which is not always accepted warmly in academic offices.

      Reply
    3. pgl

      So because my father was an engineer – I had to be an engineer? Seriously? Robert Barro’s son is a journalist. A pretty good one but I guess his reporting embarrasses poor old dad.

      Reply

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