Economists have been studying the so-called “gender” gap – defined as systematic differences in the outcomes that men and women achieve in the labor market – for over 100 years. These differences are seen in the percentages of men and women in the labor force, the types of occupations they choose, and their relative incomes or hourly wages.

The New York Times recently featured an article by Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, in which Mr. Cowen addresses the economic gender gap. His article also reviews two new books that offer an economic look at the evidence, which support both pessimistic and optimistic perspectives on the direction of gender relations and the prospects for more fairness and equality.

In one book, results from research suggest that women are perceived as easier to take advantage of in a variety of economic settings. That’s problematic, and it comes from measuring a difference in gender behavior at a specific point in time.

In another work, though, the authors show that once women achieve a critical mass in a particular area, their participation grows rapidly, at least after basic norms of inclusion have been established. This is important, because economics emphasizes that incentives matter and that incentives can be changed. Also, the long-term response to a change in incentives is often much greater and more important than the short-term response.

You can read the entire September 13, 2014 New York Times article here.