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Published by EH.NET (October 2004)

James Cicarelli and Julianne Cicarelli, Distinguished Women Economists. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. xxvi + 244 pp. $65 (hardbound), ISBN: 0-313-30331-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Claire Hammond, Department of Economics, Wake Forest University.

Distinguished Women Economists by James Cicarelli, Professor of Economics at Roosevelt University, and Julianne Cicarelli, of the Huntington Learning Center in Arlington Heights, IL, contains fifty-one biographical essays of living and dead women economists. Each woman was chosen because her career as an economist has exemplified performance at a high level and has “advanced economics in meaningful ways” (xi).

Since at least 1986 when Mark Blaug’s Who’s Who in Economics was published with entries for only a handful of women out of some 1400 living and dead economists, efforts have been made to uncover the names and contributions of women economists who might have been left out by Blaug’s critieria: for living economists, the frequency of citations in economics journals indexed in the Social Sciences Citations Index (SSCI); for dead economists, inclusion in the indices of leading histories of economic thought. Of course, as time goes by, the number of entries for living women economists is growing as they accumulate citations in the SSCI and get added to updated versions of Who’s Who in Economics. Economists prolific enough to get included are invited to write their own entries.

In order to understand the contributions of women economists of the past who did not make it into the standard history of thought texts, Robert Dimand, Mary Ann Dimand and Evelyn Forget solicited biographical essays from eighty authors on the careers of 120 retired or dead women. Their edited volume, A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists (2000) covers one hundred and ten economists not included in Who’s Who in Economics. While Dimand, Dimand, and Forget attempted to publish a complete dictionary of past women economists they acknowledged that pressure to go to press and lack of information forced them to omit some women. They urged their readers to continue to “fill the gaps in our institutional memory” (2000, xvii).

Unlike these other two, Cicarelli and Cicarelli’s volume is not designed to be a comprehensive biographical dictionary. Instead, they want to “have a balance of accomplished and emerging economists; deceased and living economists; cognitive [engaged in research and teaching], policy, and business economists” (xix). Their purpose is to show that “women have played a vital role in the development of modern economics almost from its inception. … [However] women’s contributions to the field were all but unrecognized, and even today their input is undervalued despite the fact that a full one-third of those who identify themselves as economists are female” (xi).

Their attempt at balance backfires. Without set criteria for inclusion, their list of economists appears a hodgepodge of names. With room for only fifty-odd entries it is unclear how they decided who to include. Twenty-three of their entries overlap with those in A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists. Twenty overlap with Who’s Who in Economics. Only sixteen are unique to this volume.

It is clear why some of these sixteen were chosen. Theresa Wolfson was a labor economist active in the 1930s and 1940s who won the John Dewey Award of the League for Industrial Democracy. Nancy Teeters was the first woman appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Marina Whitman was the first woman to serve on the president’s Council of Economic Advisors. Laura Tyson was its first woman chair. Juanita Kreps was the first woman and economist appointed U.S. secretary of commerce. Heidi Hartman and Nancy Folbre are MacArthur Fellows. But for the rest it is unclear why they were picked over many other successful, contemporary women economists. To be sure, Rebecca Blank, Abby Cohen, Kathleen Cooper, Kathryn Eickhoff, Ann Horowitz, Caroline Hoxby, Isabel Sawhill, Diane Swonk, and Marjorie Turner have made or are making contributions. But to include them begs the question of why not include others. For example, it struck me as odd that there is an entry on Irma Adelman and not one for her frequent co-author, Cynthia Taft Morris. The essay on Adelman refers to Morris simply as Adelman’s coauthor without acknowledging that this co-author is also an extremely successful woman economist [see Blaug, 1999, pp. 800-801].

Each entry consists of an introduction, a short biography, a section on the subject’s contributions to economics, and a bibliography of selected works by and about the subject. The entries are uniformly informative but in many cases they exaggerate the contributions of the women. For example, Cicarelli and Cicarelli write that “Shirley Almon was to econometrics what the mythical Helen of Troy was to the Greek navy” (11). They contend that “half that award [Milton Friedman’s Nobel Prize] belonged to Anna J. Schwartz” (170). This is simply untrue by any account including Schwartz’s own [see Blaug, 1999, p. 1006]. Other statements are silly or unnecessary. Consider the following: “Of all her contributions to economics, none matches the importance of simply being Kathleen Cooper” (56). Or, Laura Tyson suffered from “professional jealousies aimed at the former high school cheerleader, who favors designer suits and bouncy earrings” (203). Or, Diane Swonk’s graduation from the University of Michigan was “no small accomplishment for someone with a learning disability” (183).

These overblown and frivolous statements suggest a volume that is better suited to encouraging high school girls to consider economics as a career than as a serious addition to the collection of biographical dictionaries.

Bibliography:

Mark Blaug, editor. Who’s Who in Economics. Third Edition. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar, 1999.

Robert W. Dimand, Mary Ann Dimand, and Evelyn L. Forget, editors. A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar, 2000.

Claire Hammond is a Professor of Economics at Wake Forest University and author of four entries in A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists. She is currently co-editing the correspondence of Milton Friedman and George Stigler.