Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge

Last registered on June 30, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge
Initial registration date
June 02, 2015

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
June 02, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
June 30, 2023, 12:44 AM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.



Primary Investigator

National Bureau of Economic Research

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Harvard University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Nationwide today, there are about three undergraduate men for every one woman who major in economics. The gender disparity is due to many factors but is exacerbated by incomplete information about the application of economics beyond business and finance, a lack of role models and mentors, and the limit on evidence-based material presented in introductory courses. The UWE Challenge is an RCT that will test the effects of deliberate intervention strategies by economics departments at 20 randomly selected institutions to recruit and retain female majors. The experiment will determine whether there are any detectable benefits of this intentional effort by comparing the outcomes at the treatment schools with those at control schools, and by comparing outcomes at treatment schools for entering cohorts before and after treatment.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Avilova, Tatyana and Claudia Goldin. 2023. "Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge." AEA RCT Registry. June 30. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.686-9.0
Former Citation
Avilova, Tatyana and Claudia Goldin. 2023. "Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge." AEA RCT Registry. June 30. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/686/history/184943
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Experimental Details


In January 2015, an initial notice about the UWE Challenge was sent out to institutions in the United States that graduated at least fifteen (15) economics majors a year. About half of the institutions replied with their interest in the project, and from the "treatable sample" of interested schools, twenty (20) were randomly selected for the treatment group of the project. Remaining schools were designated as control institutions. (See Experimental Design for more details.)

For the schools in the treatment arm, the study provided grant payments ($12,500 total) for meeting stated goals and guidance to implement various interventions aimed at recruiting more undergraduate women into the economics major. A list of interventions, compiled by an advisory group to the project in November 2014, was presented to the departments as a starting point, but each department was able to select and, if necessary, design their own set of interventions. Interventions were classified into one or more of the following three categories depending on the area that they target:

- Better Information: Without accurate information about the broader application of economics (e.g., beyond finance and consulting), women are more likely to major in less rigorous fields, often within the social sciences or humanities, that seem to provide more application to the theory behind economics.
- Mentoring and Role Models: Women are more sensitive to their grades in introductory courses when choosing their major than are men. The creation of networks among students within the department and showing support for their decision to major in the field has been effective in recruiting underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and may also be effective in economics.
- Content and Presentation Style: On average, female undergraduates are less confident about their quantitative skills than are men even if they are equally able and prepared. Their lack of confidence may diminish their belief that economics fits their personal strengths and abilities. Including more evidence-based material and incorporating projects int the curriculum may help the students to challenge this image of their suitability for and interest in economics.

The official treatment year ran during the 2015-16 academic year, although many schools have continued and expanded upon the interventions in the initial year. The most common interventions included, but are not limited to:

- Providing more complete information about upper-level economics courses and the overall major requirements (implemented by 12 treatment departments);
- Sending letters of encouragement to students in Principles (11);
- Use of the AEA video and/or producing own videos about economics (10);
- Panels with faculty, alumni, and others about economics careers (7);
- Informational fliers about economics for freshmen at start of year (7);
- Focus groups with students to learn what could be improved (7);
- UWE student clubs (6);
- Use of upper-class majors and graduate students as mentors (6);
- Faculty workshops with undergraduates (6);
- Informal lunches for faculty and students (6).
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The key outcome variable is the number of students graduating with a major in economics, by gender. If such data is available, the study will account for the number of economics majors who transferred to the institution after their sophomore year: these students would have taken their introductory and intermediate economics courses at a separate institution, and UWE interventions are less likely to have an effect, if any, on their choice of major.

The study will also collect the following information from the schools.
- the number of students graduating with a minor in economics, by gender;
- the number of students enrolled in the principles of economics sequence, by gender by class rank;
- the number of students enrolled in the intermediate theory sequence, by gender by class rank.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
A letter of invitation to participate in the Challenge was sent to 344 co-educational colleges and universities in the United States that had graduated at least 15 BA students from their economics program per year (averaged across the 2011 to 2013 period). Of the group contacted, 167 schools (or almost 50%) expressed an interest in the initiative. The letter of invitation did not give much detail but did state that all treatment schools would receive a maximum of $12,500 that could be used for any part of the intervention (e.g., guest speakers; lunches with faculty members; events with teaching fellows).

Out of the 167 schools that volunteered to participate in the study, 88 were selected to be part of the "treatable sample" based on several institutional characteristics. Of the institutions in the treatable sample, 20 were randomly selected to be part of the treatment group, and the remaining 68 institutions were asked if they wished to be part of the control group. Of these, 35 schools volunteered to be in the control pool.

Each treatment school will design their own intervention program aimed at recruiting more undergraduate women into economics, with some guidance from the trial organizers and our designated Board of Experts, with whom we met to design the experiment in November 2014. Treatment schools will begin implementing the interventions in the Fall 2015. The main intervention will last one year (Fall 2015 to Spring 2016), with some spillover into the following academic year (Fall 2016 to Spring 2017). Schools will receive funding from the study for the first full year. Schools may continue their intervention programs beyond that if they wish.

Treatment schools will submit reports detailing their plan of intervention. Both treatment and control schools will be asked to provide aggregate numbers for several years prior to the start of the trial for students graduating with an economics BA. For the duration of the trial, they will also be asked to provide aggregate numbers for students enrolled in introductory and intermediate economics courses, and the major selection for students in the treatment cohort (Fall 2015 to Spring 2016) at the point of major declaration and upon their graduation. In addition, the trial organizers will use data provided in the IPEDS (US Department of Education) to collect aggregate numbers on the majors of graduating students at schools that did not respond to the letter of invitation to be in our sample of institutions interested in the Challenge.

The trial organizers will conduct statistical analysis to determine what, if any, impact the intervention programs have on recruiting more women to major in economics by comparing the data from the treatment schools, the interested control schools, and the schools that never demonstrated an interest. Given the enormous interest that was expressed in the program and statements from control schools that they have been motivated by our Challenge, even though they were not randomly chosen as a treatment, we will look at time trends for all groups, particularly for the group that meets our criteria of size of program and selectivity.
Experimental Design Details
Due to the large number of responses, a decision was made to limit the institutions even further by the number of BA majors and the selectivity of the institution to increase the power by reducing the variance. Of the schools that expressed an interest, the sample was further reduced by the schools that had graduated fewer than 30 economics BAs per year (averaged across the 2011 to 2013 period), schools that were not in the (USN&WR) “top 100 universities” or the “top 100 colleges” and produced fewer than three economics PhD graduates across the 2008 to 2012 period, and all unranked schools.

The remaining 88 schools were ranked in order based on the USN&WR “top universities” and “top colleges” rankings (merged by “within group” ranking number). Colleges and universities with the same ranking were ordered highest to lowest based on the average Verbal and Math SAT scores. Schools were then divided into four equal groups of 22 schools each, with a number 1 through 22 assigned to them based on their relative USN&WR rank.

We randomized in the following fashion. Ten random numbers were drawn for each of the four groups using an online random number generator. The schools with numbers corresponding to the first five numbers were assigned to the treatment group, and the other five schools were assigned to the waitlist, in the case that a treatment or a control school declined to participate in the Challenge. The remaining 12 schools were assigned to the control group. All 20 schools originally assigned to treatment agreed to participate. All waitlisted schools were automatically invited to join the control group.
Randomization Method
Randomization in the office using an online random number generator.
Randomization Unit
Treatment is randomized at school level within four selectivity groups of institutions.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Economics departments at least 55 schools (universities and liberal arts colleges in the United States).
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
20 treatment schools and at least 35 control schools (selected out of the schools that expressed an interest in the Challenge). Other schools can be added into the control group by using publicly available IPEDS data on majors, provided they passed the initial selection criteria for graduating a sufficient number of economics majors every year.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
The mean fraction of female BAs majoring in economics (unweighted by treatment school) is 0.04. The minimum detectable change between control and treatment schools in the fraction of female BAs majoring in economics is 0.0072.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Harvard University, Committee on the Use of Human Subjects
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
May 31, 2016, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
May 31, 2023, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Unit of randomization: 88 schools (20 treatment and 68 control); selection from 4 clusters based on school ranking
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
88 schools
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
20 treatment schools and 68 control schools
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials