US economics PhDs are less socioeconomically and racially diverse than other major fields

Robert Schultz (University of Michigan) and Anna Stansbury (PIIE)

US economics PhDs are less socioeconomically and racially diverse than other major fields


Economics is the least socioeconomically and racially diverse of any major PhD discipline. US-born economics PhD recipients are much more likely to identify as White non-Hispanic and have highly educated parents relative to both the general population and other academic disciplines. 

Between 2010 and 2018, around 14 percent of US-born economics PhD recipients were first-generation college graduates—meaning their parents did not hold at least a bachelor's degree—compared with 26 percent across all PhD fields. The PhD fields with the lowest shares of first-generation college graduates are also, on average, the fields with the lowest share of underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities. Economics is also at the bottom of this metric.

Multiple factors could be responsible for this lack of diversity. The undergraduate fields and institutions that feed economics PhD programs tend to be less socioeconomically diverse. Economics, mathematics, and other social sciences degrees are overrepresented among economics PhD recipients, as are "Ivy Plus" schools (Ivy League plus MIT, Stanford, Chicago, and Duke) and private universities. All are less diverse than other fields and institutions.

As the share of recipients without a parent with a college degree is strongly correlated with the share of underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, some of the same factors limiting access to those with less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds may also be barriers for minority groups.

This PIIE Chart is based on Robert Schultz and Anna Stansbury's Working Paper, Socioeconomic diversity of economics PhDs.


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