Alter the introductory textbooks

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Introductory economic textbooks often contain misrepresentations of underrepresented groups or do not even bother to mention them at all. They also frequently fail to communicate the vital policy and social issues economists study in their research. The textbook is an integral component to the economics classroom and appears to be an authoritative and objective representation of our discipline. Biases that are present in economic textbooks not only create an uncomfortable or irrelevant classroom environment for underrepresented students but may discourage underrepresented students from pursuing further studies in economics.

Common issues found in introductory economics textbooks include biases associated with the definition of economic problems, biases associated with the review of previous research, and biases that marginalize the experiences of women and minorities. The topic of marginalizing the experiences of women was pioneered by the economist Susan Feiner in a 1987 paper co-authored with Barbara Morgan which found that 21 introductory textbooks included only passing mentions of women and did not focus on topics specifically related to women. Feiner went on to write multiple later articles which found that through out the mid-to late 1990s, representation of women in economics textbooks continued. A study by Marianne Ferber in 1995 found that 8 out of 9 introductory textbooks did not discuss the influx of women into the labor market, despite this being one of the most significant changes to the economy in the second half of the 20th century.

Biases in economics textbooks can also depict women or minority groups in a negative light. In remarks at the 1995 National Science Foundation Workshop on Integrating Race and Gender into the Intro­ductory Economics Course, Lisa Saunders, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, discussed how the text of introductory textbooks invoked negative feelings from minority groups, quoting an author's explanation of the riots in Los Angeles--"Black resentment was certainly understandable, but it was also perverse"-- as an example.

Additionally, unlike other social sciences like sociology, political science, or psychology, extensive documentation of sources and empirical methods are typically not provided in economics textbooks, which prevents readers from knowing and evaluating the methodology of the studies on which reported "conclusions" are based.

And, as we all should do when talking about issues with very powerful personal effects, textbooks should proceed with nuance and humility.


Bartlett, Robin. "Discovering Diversity in Introductory Economics." Journal of Economics Perspectives 10(2) (Spring 1996) 141-153 http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.10.2.141