When I was an undergraduate, many of my professors were Canadian born and American trained. The demographic profile of Canada, and of Canadian economics classrooms, has changed since then, as our country has recruited high skilled immigrants from around the world. But has there been a corresponding change in the demographic composition of the professoriate?
As part of my on-going research project with Anindya Sen and Marcel Voia on hotness and earnings, I've been gathering data on the educational backgrounds of Ontario economics professors - where they received their first degrees, and where they studied for their PhDs. Some preliminary results are shown over the fold:
The numbers in the table are based on 391 Ontario economics professors for whom I was able to obtain BA or first degree information - 106 assistant professors, 133 associate professors, and 152 full professors. (A full professors is one who can call herself simply "Professor", without an assistant or associate before her name).
It usually takes 5 to 7 years to move from assistant to associate professor. The time from associate to full is more variable - some make the move after 5 or 7 years, some remain at associate for their entire academic careers. But roughly speaking, a typical full professor is someone in his or her 40s, 50s, or 60s, who has been on the job at least 15 years.
Over half of full professors have Canadian first degrees, and over 80 percent are from Canada, the US, or what I call the anglosphere - the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. European first degree holders account for 5 percent of the total, and East Asians (primarily from China) for 6 percent. The remaining 8 percent is divided between the rest of the world - Latin America (1 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (3 percent), South Asia (3 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (1 percent).
The assistant professors - people who have been hired in the last 5 to 10 years - have quite a different demographic profile. Fewer - only a quarter - have Canadian first degrees. While Canadian economics departments continue to hire Americans, the green section representing the UK, Australia and so on has almost disappeared.
Over a quarter of new hires have a European background - undergraduate degrees from countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, Russia, and so on. Although there is growth in the proportion of professors from East Asian countries and the rest of the world, those numbers have been increasing less rapidly than I might have expected.
Hiring a junior faculty member is like any other purchase decision: what a person ends up buying is heavily influenced by where he goes shopping. To help explain the processes generating the numbers above, I've put together a breakdown of Ontario economics professors by location of PhD:
The percentage of faculty members with Canadian PhDs increases as one moves from full to associate professor. Recruitment patterns at the assistant level, however, are similar to those of yesteryear, with almost exactly half of Ontario assistant professors coming from US institutions. (The graph above is based on 109 assistants, 134 for associates, 154 full professors.)
What is different now, though, is the background of recruits with American doctorates. Of the 54 Ontario assistant professors in economics with US PhDs, just 6 -- 11 percent -- have a Canadian background. For full professors, the comparable number is 47 percent. The single largest group is now Europeans, who make up 31 percent of assistant professors with a US PhD. [Of the 47 people with Canadian PhDs who have been hired by Ontario economics departments recently, 49 percent have Canadian BAs, 19 have European first degrees, while 17 percent have a first degree from somewhere in East Asia.]
So what has changed? Why are today's new hires unlikely to have a Canadian background? I have no evidence, but I have theories. First, from Sydney Crosby to Nathan Nunn, Steve Nash to David Card, Wayne Gretzky to Janet Currie, the best Canadians play for US teams. Elite US schools might sign Canadian academics for the same reason that US hockey teams sign Canadian players - they're popular with the crowds, because they aren't noticeably "foreign." Also, NAFTA makes it relatively easy for Canadians to obtain US work permits. Perhaps Canadian economists are not working in Canadian schools because they're doing quite nicely in the US, thank you very much.
Second, it may be that Canadian universities are not producing good candidates for economics PhD programs. I have blogged before about some of the problems with Canadian economics education. Perhaps Canada is graduating fewer top quality undergraduate economists, or perhaps we do not have enough of the underemployed physicists and engineers who, increasingly, form the pool from which economics PhD programs draw.
Third, immigration policy matters. It is easier for foreign nationals to obtain Canadian work permits than was the case 15 or 20 years ago, while the US seems, if anything, to have made it more difficult for Europeans to work there. People work where they can; schools hire who they can.
Fourth, the pool of candidates on the job market reflects the admission policies of US and Canadian graduate schools. I took a look at some US schools' listings of job market candidates and graduate students, for example, Princeton's, MIT's, Penn State, Berkeley's. The patterns that I saw in those listings were that lower-ranked schools took more international students, and that most schools have a very diverse mix of students. One thing that comes out clearly in those pages that location of first degree is only a rough measure of ethnicity - Canadian and US first degree holders reflect the ethnic diversity of our undergraduate programs.
Fifth, Canadian economics departments are part of an international job market. At present, the international prestige of Asian universities is rising rapidly, and they are increasingly making competitive offers to Canadian and US trained graduates. Europe, on the other hand, is experiencing relatively tough economic times. One would expect these trends to have impacts on the supply of candidates to the Canadian market.
Ultimately Canadian universities hire foreign workers for the same reasons that other businesses do: we want to be globally competitive. Sure, we could play by the Rumsfield principle and go to war with the army we have. But given the choice, we recruit internationally, so that we can go to war with the army we want.
But what about students in Canadian economics PhD programs? Where are they getting jobs?
The raw numbers of graduates of Canadian schools who currently hold jobs as assistant professors in Ontario economics departments is as follows:
Sometimes students came to see me to discuss their plans to take a PhD. I always ask "Are you hoping to be a university professor?" and then try to convey some sense of the probability of this happening. Unless a student is at UBC, University of Toronto, or a handful of other schools, their best shot at academic employment is at a smaller, teaching-oriented institution, or in a policy or business school. Even then, the odds of getting an academic job are low.
To see why, simply compare the number of junior academic positions to the number of PhD students. Right now there are just over 100 assistant professors in Ontario economics departments - and that's a number generated by a long and sustained hiring boom. How many people are presently chasing assistant professor jobs? University of Toronto currently has at 71 PhD students listed on its web page. UBC's PhD program is about the same size, while Queen's has just over 60 students Western's program is slightly smaller, with about 43 students.
Note that both the number of assistant professors, and the number of PhD students, are stocks. However, since people take about 5 or so years to do a PhD, and 5 or so years to move from assistant to associate professor, the two stocks are roughly comparable. It's also true that Ontario is not the only academic job market. Lots of Canadian students get academic jobs elsewhere in Canada, in the US, Europe or, increasingly, Asia. But, ultimately, a student in a Canadian economics PhD program has a good chance of ending up in working in the private sector, in government, or in a primarily teaching position.
It's important for graduate students to know this. An economic theorist may end up spending their days in a teaching-oriented school, explaining intermediate micro to business students. The high powered econometrician may end up working for a think tank, analyzing data and writing reports.
In jobs like these, speaking intelligibly and being able to write a sentence with few spelling and grammatical errors is crucial. Indeed, federal government studies of the progress of visible minorities in the federal public service consistently point to language fluency as an obstacle to the success of people from visible minority communities. In my own experience, the foreign-born students who have had the most success on the job market have worked hard to improve their level of English fluency, reading English novels in their spare time, going out and socializing with English-speakers, actively seeking advice on how to improve their writing, or spending hours practicing pronouncing "the" correctly.
Ultimately, does the national origin of Canadian economics professors matter? I think it does, for two reasons. First, people who come to Canada having completed their education and training elsewhere are less likely to have an interest in analyzing Canadian policy issues, or the skills necessary to do so, and that lowers the quality of the Canadian policy debate. Second, potential PhD students benefit from having some knowledge of how the academic job market works, so that they can make the human capital investment decisions that are best for them.