Gender Stereotypes in Educational Reference Letters

In new analysis, Markus Eberhardt, Giovanni Facchini, and Valeria Rueda delve into a novel database comprising 12,000 reference letters, which have been written in assist of greater than 3,700 candidates making use of for educational job positions in economics in the UK. Their evaluation uncovers a pervasive disparity in the way in which female and male candidates are really helpful. Particularly, the authors observe that ladies are often lauded for his or her laborious work and dedication, and at instances much less more likely to be praised for his or her pure expertise. In addition they present that such gender-based stereotyping hinders the progress of girls economists.


Academia is going through elevated scrutiny over gender imbalances, and that is very true in economics. Latest empirical work has documented that in our self-discipline, the profession pipeline for ladies is “leaky.” Which means that girls drop out of the career at vital transitions, such because the soar from incomes a PhD to an assistant professorship or earlier than acquiring tenure. In a latest paper, we examine step one of the tutorial profession of an economist, the junior “job market.” That is the stage at which the leak has grown essentially the most prior to now decade and that up to now has not obtained a lot systematic consideration within the literature.

The tutorial job marketplace for economists is a distinctively structured and centralized establishment. Every fall, universities launch job postings, and aspiring candidates put together a complete “job market package deal.” This package deal contains a number of educational papers, a curriculum vitae, and a set of reference letters written by students accustomed to the candidate’s work. Candidates, letter writers, and hiring committees all work together by means of centralized platforms on this market. Because the identical package deal is often used for many job purposes, the incremental value of submitting an extra software is low. Candidates sometimes use the identical reference letters for all purposes, somewhat than tailor them to particular person establishments. Consequently, research-intensive establishments obtain massive numbers of purposes, and the pattern thought-about in our examine might be thought-about a broadly consultant slice of the reference letters current available in the market.

We obtained entry to information comprising all purposes for entry-level positions obtained by one research-intensive college within the U.Ok. between 2017-2021. Deploying pure language processing instruments, we analyzed the textual content of 12,000 reference letters written in assist of over 3,700 candidates. A regular letter covers a prolonged dialogue of the candidate’s job market paper, some point out of their further analysis, and their instructing and citizenship abilities. The ultimate part gives a abstract evaluation of the candidate’s educational talents and recruitment prospects—this part is the main focus of the principle evaluation carried out within the paper.

We use two complementary approaches to review the letters. We first construct a mannequin that predicts whether or not a letter was written in assist of a girl or a person. Unsurprisingly, phrases associated to analysis have sturdy predictive energy; sure fields akin to household economics entice girls. Much less simply defined by the candidate’s educational decisions is the truth that character traits (“shy,” “nice”) and grindstone attributes (“pushed,” “hardworking,” “decided”) additionally function as sturdy predictors of letters written in assist of girls.

We then depend on a second mannequin to evaluate whether or not the gender of the candidate predicts whether or not the letter refers to sure attributes. To categorize the attributes current in letters, we’re knowledgeable by present analysis on the subject proposing that 5 traits are normally highlighted in educational reference letters. These are skill traits, grindstone traits (e.g., “hardworking”), analysis phrases, standout adjectives, and instructing and citizenship phrases. We added a class that refers back to the recruitment prospects of the candidate and validated the dictionaries we outlined for every trait with a survey of a big pattern of educational economists primarily based in U.Ok. research-intensive universities.

Our outcomes set up that the reward of laborious work is considerably extra more likely to seem in letters written in assist of girls. This sample is powerful for candidates throughout all ranks of PhD-granting establishments (most of the candidates have been worldwide and had obtained their PhDs at faculties outdoors of the U.Ok.), and independently of whether or not their letter author is a male or a feminine researcher. Probably the most hanging results are noticed for letter writers who’ve much less expertise working with feminine college students and people who aren’t the coed’s most important advisor and are due to this fact much less more likely to know them properly. For these letter writers, we observe a pointy divergence within the qualities praised: they’re largely and considerably extra more likely to reward laborious work and fewer more likely to reward pure skill. Lastly, though women and men are equally more likely to obtain detrimental feedback (“I like to recommend this particular person to any division outdoors the top-50”), girls are much less more likely to obtain outstandingly constructive ones (“any division together with top-5”).

Does praising laborious work impression profession prospects? In spite of everything, being eager and pushed is a constructive factor for an worker. Nevertheless, it’s additionally anticipated of everybody in a aggressive and extremely expert career. Extra broadly, sociologists because the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron within the Nineteen Seventies have identified that minorities are extra usually praised for his or her diligence somewhat than for his or her innate skill, and that such reward might be interpreted as a scarcity of pure expertise. Extra not too long ago, Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin R. Banaji, targeted on skilled musicians and documented that recruiters in a managed experimental atmosphere systematically selected candidates that have been praised on their pure skill in comparison with these praised on their “grit.” This favoring of “naturals” over “laborious staff” is revealed regardless of these recruiters’ said desire for laborious work over pure skill. 

We illustrate the results of language bias in advice letters by accumulating placement data for all of the candidates in our pattern. These information present that for educational jobs, the reward of diligence and laborious work is considerably related to touchdown a job in a much less prestigious establishment—a penalty which is markedly greater for ladies. Our analysis sheds gentle on the function of implicit stereotyping in explaining the slower development of girls as educational economists. Letter writers dedicate plenty of time in writing and sharpening letters, and the overwhelming majority seemingly cares about their college students and goals to position them as extremely as doable. Subsequently, it’s unlikely that, on common, they’re intentionally undermining feminine college students by emphasizing much less fascinating attributes. Latest analysis has proven that unconscious biases might be addressed by offering the actors concerned with proof of the existence of such biases. By shedding gentle on these patterns, we hope this analysis shall be a primary step in direction of rising consciousness and lowering doable stereotyping within the job markets.

Articles characterize the opinions of their writers, not essentially these of the College of Chicago, the Sales space College of Enterprise, or its school.

Originally posted 2023-07-07 10:00:00.


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