Healthy equality

October 8, 2015

Victoria Bateman identifies economics as sexist (“Is economics a sexist science?”, Opinion, 15 September). That may be true of mainstream economics, but it is certainly not true of the field that we work in: health economics. Here at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, there is gender equality among senior health economists: 50 per cent of readers and professors in health economics are female. Leading health economics research units elsewhere in the UK have female directors: the universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Leeds and York, Bangor and City universities, and King’s College London, for example.

Why is this the case? Women may be attracted by the subject matter, which includes determinants of fertility, gender inequalities in health and access to services, and the role of women in the health workforce. Female role models may also be important, encouraging junior female academics to seek out an academic environment that they expect to be supportive. For example, two recent presidents of the International Health Economics Association have been women, and 16 of the 20 health economists in our research group in the department of global health and development are women. More negatively, health economics may be seen as “soft” and not of equal status to, for example, macroeconomic theory or industrial organisation. But in terms of social and economic importance – share of GDP, share of government spending or ranking in terms of people’s daily concerns – health is a high priority, and it is positive that so many female economists are choosing to specialise in it.

As economists, it is important that we consider the micro as well as the macro picture that Bateman presents, and give consideration to the relative balance of incentives and disincentives that drive the differential career choices of those who train in economics. At least in health economics, a very warm welcome awaits both men and women who wish to pursue their career in this field.

Anne Mills, deputy director and provost professor of health economics and policy
Richard Smith, dean, Faculty of Public Health, and policy professor of health system economics
Kara Hanson, associate dean for research, Faculty of Public Health, and policy professor of health system economics
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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