Ever since I was a child growing up in a struggling Italian economy, economics has helped me better understand the world. Economics gave me a voice during my family’s dinnertime conversations about Italian unemployment or the soaring tax rate, and it allowed me to make sense of adult behavior that otherwise confused me, such as why my parents always bought my clothes in the United States. To many, economics might seem dry or theoretical, but the truth is that its implications surround us. Economics is a major force in everything from politics to investing, from careers to decisions about the best way to finance our educations.
And yet, there are few girls at Andover pursuing economics, and, in general, the field suffers from female underrepresentation. Even if you don’t plan to become an economist, knowing a bit about economics and developing financial literacy is a necessary tool that can help you make better decisions.
When I first arrived at Andover, I was dismayed by the lack of representation for girls in economics classes – only 31 percent of students taking Economics were female in the fall of 2014, according to the Dean of Studies office. Even outside of the classroom, I was one of only two girls attending meetings run by Andover Economics Society. Now, as Managing Director of the club, I am writing with the intention to encourage more girls to join the club, attend our meetings and take economics courses.
Developing financial literacy is key in enabling women to achieve our full potential in society. On a professional level, many management and executive jobs require an understanding of internal financial matters, as well as of the broader external market forces that businesses and organizations contend with. Familiarity with economic terminology and practices will help accelerate female advancement in a wide range of careers.
Historically, women have been forced into dependence on others to manage personal financial matters. At various periods throughout history, for example, women could not legally inherit property. Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974, women could not apply for credit, regardless of their income, without a male co-signing the credit application. In fact, until 1978, U.S. employers were legally allowed to fire women from their jobs simply because they were pregnant. This historical discrimination has rendered women less financially competent and less capable of taking charge of their lives and financial security. Women’s work is still undervalued; females earn, on average, a mere $0.79 for every $1.00 a male earns for the same job – and this disparity is even worse for women of color.
Knowledge in economics is a powerful force for mobilizing equality. While many female leaders in economics have established a new chapter in the history of this academic field, more female involvement is necessary. There has never been a female president of the European Central Bank, the World Bank or of the United States. The first woman to become chairman of a Fortune 500 company was Katharine Graham in 1972, and 50 years later, women continue to make up a meager fraction of the Boards of Fortune 500 companies, who tend to pay well and provide more financial opportunities for women. Yet, it is true that women have broken the glass ceiling, with Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; and Christine Lagardem Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, just to name a few. Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, and there are several more female economists who have done groundbreaking work and may win in the future.
Change starts with role models like these encouraging women and with our own commitment to our education. Female students should feel encouraged to take economics courses, giving women more presence in a field that has typically been dominated by men. To Upper girls at Andover: I hope you will take on the challenge of signing up for an economics course. To every female student on campus: I encourage you to come and participate in the Economics Society to acquire a more thorough understanding of the world we live in. Together we can make a big impact on the way economics is viewed by future girls – and future leaders – right here from Andover.