Women changing the world through economics

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On February 17th and 18th, the Women in Economics Symposium, presented by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, featured several speakers and panelists explaining the importance of economics and how it can help people make better decisions. Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Economics webpage.

The Women in Economics Symposium, presented by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, featured several speakers and panelists explaining the importance of economics and how it can help people make better decisions on Feb. 17 and 18 through Webex from 7-9 p.m.  

The main session of the symposium featured Abigail Wozniak, a senior research economist from the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. She emphasized that economics is the practice of using theory data and observations to interpret human behavior.  

“Economics isn’t the only discipline that combines these things, but what often makes economics unique and stand out, sometimes to our colleagues from other social sciences, is how often we emphasize that one thing or another or all of these things could be completely wrong,” Wozniak said. 

““Economics isn’t the only discipline that combines these things, but what often makes economics unique and stand out, sometimes to our colleagues from other social sciences, is how often we emphasize that one thing or another or all of these things could be completely wrong.”

Abigail Wozniak, Senior Research Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis

Wozniak said this tendency for economics to be misleading is actually really powerful because it forces people to think in different ways. She showed the impact economics can make through examples from her research. One example was the decline of American migrations. Many economists thought the decline started during the housing crisis of 2008, but through her data, Wozniak explained that the lack of migration in the U.S. starting declining since the 1980s.  

“And so that’s why changing minds is so important if we’re not changing minds, at least sometimes, then we’re taking proceedings from some kind basis of, really, fantasy because that would suggest we all know the answers already,” Wozniak said. “So we have to have some of that turnover in what we think. But obviously, it’s not the case every single day where we come up with a new idea that amends how people are thinking, but over the course of the investigation I think we can do that,” she added.  

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The study of Economics forces individuals, and those who study it, to think in different ways. As detailed in the article by Abigail Wozniak, to think differently, people should think about the constraints, instead of the optimism. Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

To think differently, people should think about the constraints instead of the optimisms in a given situation according to Wozniak. She gave an example of COVID-19 tests. Ideally, there would be enough tests for everyone, but that isn’t realistic in America. So, economists have to think about testing strategies around the constraints Wozniak explained. In addition, she advised clear communication and working with people that support you in tackling the questions you want to ask can change the way people think.  

Brigitte Madrian, dean and professor at the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business says that effective research is to consider the point of view of the audience.  

“One of the things that we don’t get from economic theory but we get from people who study communication is that stories and examples are what resonate with people and give people the emotional hook that then convinces them to act on the data,” Madrian said.  

““One of the things that we don’t get from economic theory but we get from people who study communication is that stories and examples are what resonate with people and give people the emotional hook that then convinces them to act on the data.”

Brigitte Madrian, Dean and Professor at the Brigham Young University Marriot School of Business

“When you’re speaking to an academic audience you don’t need the stories, but as soon as you’re talking to a man or woman on the street or policymaker, having that real-world story, you know this is Mario and this was how he was impacted by the situation and this is how this policy can make a difference is how you motivate people to take action and actually do something,” Madrian added. 

According to the speakers, there are not enough women in the economics field. Speakers said that it is important to further explain what economists actually do in order to get women to pursue a career in economics and bring their ideas to the table. They also emphasized that economics is not just about math. It is important to also keep disciplines broad and find connections with people who are supportive when looking for a career in economics.  

The symposium then moved into breakout rooms where topics varied from, “Making a Difference Using Healthcare Economics,” “What can I do with a Bachelor or Masters in Economics,” “Making a Difference by Starting a Women Economics Club at Your University,” and “Making a Difference by Contributing to Economic Policy.” 

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Two women speaking to one another. During the symposium, the fact that there is not enough women in the Economics field, and that it is truly a male dominated field. The importance of more women entering the field of Economics, and for women, in general, having a place at the table to share their ideas, was stressed, in particular, during the symposium. Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Panelists at the “Making a Difference by Contributing to Economic Policy,” explained the impacts they have made through their policies and day-to-day schedule. Jane Ihrig, Federal Reserve Board of Governors in St. Louis, said that each day can look a little different for her but assisting governors with policy-making is what she focuses on.  

Beth Johnston, who works in the Minnesota Department of Revenue said she is currently working on cannabis policy, specifically the tax implications of legalizing cannabis. Louise Sheiner said her day-to-day work varies from doing research to communicating with economists and non-economists on policies at the Brookings Institution. 

“You’re working on things that matter and what’s particularly rewarding is when you have been doing it for a really long time, you get to the point where you actually think you know a lot about this kind of stuff, as much as most people and anybody else out there, that your view matters, you trust yourself and influence the debate,” Sheiner said.

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