Men don't trust female central bankers on inflation or the economy, survey data shows

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Americans are less likely to trust statements from the Federal Reserve about interest rates when a U.S. central bank official portrayed as a woman delivers the information as opposed to a man, according to our new study.

Women filled just 11% of the seats on the boards of central banks around the world from 2000 to 2015. Our previous work suggested a key reason for this was that women are seen by lawmakers who fill those seats as less trusted to prioritize inflation fighting, as opposed to men, who are perceived as monetary policy “hawks.”

To better understand how gender shapes public reactions to central bankers, we conducted a survey experiment in January 2022 in which we gave easy-to-understand summaries of contemporary Fed statements to a random sample of about 11,000 Americans, evenly split between men and women.

We randomly attributed those summaries to real people – either Loretta Mester, president of the Cleveland Fed, or Charles Evans, who heads the Chicago branch. This allowed us to gauge whether the words of a female central banker would be perceived differently than those of a male colleague. We also tweaked their titles, randomly referring to the male or female Fed official as either “President of a Federal Reserve Bank and a Ph.D. Economist” or simply as a “Federal Reserve Economist.” This allowed us to see if highlighting credentials minimized any gender bias as studies suggest that it can in professional settings.

We then asked participants a series of general questions, such as their level of education and self-reported economic literacy, as well as their level of trust in state and federal institutions. We followed with our main questions about trust in the Federal Reserve specifically, optimism about the economy and their concern about inflation and unemployment.

As expected, we found strong evidence of bias against female central bankers among male survey takers. Gender bias was most significant when we asked about confidence in the Fed. For example, 53% of male respondents said they had confidence in the central bank when Evans was cited as the source – with the full Fed title – compared with just 43% who said the same about a similarly credentialed Mester. Similarly, 32% said they were optimistic about the economy when the summary came from Evans, double the share for Mester.

We could also see this bias in the ability of male respondents to remember the gender of the official. Only 60% accurately recalled at the end of the survey the gender of the official when it was a woman, while 97% accurately recalled the gender of the man.

The results from female survey takers showed little or no gender bias – though women showed more confidence in Mester when they were given her full title.