Introductory economics courses

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A number of studies have been conducted demonstrating that introductory economics courses are highly important to the attraction and retention of underrepresented students in the field of economics. A 1992 article by Jane Horvath, Barbara Beaudin, and Sheila Wright showed that the likelihood that a student persists in economics can is directly related to how they do in their introductory class and that the effects differ by gender. For both genders, doing well in an introductory class predicted further study of economics, but this effect was greater for women. That is, women who got lower grades were less likely to persist than men who got similarly low grades. This study was consistent with other studies which find that females require "more concrete symbols of success" to encourage persistence in an academic discipline.

Many studies also provide solutions to augment introductory economics courses so that the classroom environment is more comfortable for underrepresented students. For example, increasing the diversity of teachers teaching introductory courses can encourage underrepresented minorities.

Eric Bettinger and Bridget Terry Long (Do Faculty Serve as Role Models? The Impact of Instructor Gender on Female Students, 2005, American Economic Review, 95(2): 152-157 [1]) explore the effects of same-sex professors as role models and find that only about 1/3 of professors teaching introductory courses in any discipline were female. Their results suggest that "female instructors do positively influence course selection and major choice in some disciplines thus supporting a possible role model effect."

Scott E. Carrell, Marianne E. Page and James E. West (Sex and Science: How Professor Gender Perpetuates the Gender Gap, 2010, QJE, 125 (3): 1101-1144 [2]) use data from the U.S. Air Force Academy, where students are randomly assigned to professors. They find "that although professor gender has little impact on male students, it has a powerful effect on female students' performance in math and science classes, and high-performing female students' likelihood of taking future math and science courses, and graduating with a STEM degree...The gender gap in course grades and STEM majors is eradicated when high-performing female students are assigned to female professors in mandatory introductory math and science coursework."