Elizabeth Bailey, economist who broke path for women, dies at 83 – The Washington Post

by | Aug 31, 2022 | Financial

Listen7 minGift ArticleElizabeth E. Bailey once reported for a meeting at Bell Laboratories, where she was chief of economic research in the 1970s, when a male executive directed her to take notes in the back of the room. He had assumed she was a stenographer.As a member of corporate boards, she was often the only woman at the table. And in academia, where she spent nearly three decades of her career, she lamented what for many years was the scarcity of female professors in economics departments.Dr. Bailey, 83, who died Aug. 19 at her home in Reston, Va., was widely credited with opening opportunities for women in her field.In 1972, she became the first woman to receive a PhD in economics from Princeton University. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed her the first female member of the Civil Aeronautics Board, where she helped provide the intellectual framework for the deregulation of the airline industry. (To Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who inquired at her confirmation hearing about her “steel,” she declared herself “tougher than I look.”)AdvertisementLater, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Dr. Bailey became the first woman to serve as dean of a Top 10 graduate business school.“She certainly showed how women can succeed in economics and set an example for other women to follow,” Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, said in an interview.But if “firsts” such as hers were considered notable, Dr. Bailey insisted, it was “society’s fluke,” and no reflection on the abilities of the women who achieved them. A degree of equality would be attained, she seemed to say, when a woman in roles like hers was no longer remarkable.Dr. Bailey served as dean of Carnegie Mellon’s graduate school of industrial administration from 1983 to 1990. She later joined the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was chair of the department of business and public policy before her retirement in 2010.AdvertisementShe specialized in subjects including regulation and deregulation — fields, Stevenson noted, that even today tend to attract fewer women than other areas of economic study — and was perhaps best known for her work on the Civil Aeronautics Board. Carter named her to one of two Republican slots in 1977, and President Ronald Reagan named her vice-chair in 1981.Dr. Bailey was a forceful supporter of deregulation and set out, as she put it, to “free the airline industry from the tentacles of restrictive government.”“I think we should rely more on market forces to determine the price and variety of air services,” Dr. Bailey told the New York Times upon her appointment to the panel. “What is so exciting about joining the board at this time is that I can point out what regulatory reform is all about — getting the regulatory agency out of making every little decision about how much a ticket costs, and leaving some things to the market.”Advertisement“There are a lot of people who have never had enough money to go to Europe,” she added. “The idea of offering lower fares and special services is really appealing. I only wish I’d been at the board [sooner].”She and board colleagues including Chairman Alfred E. Kahn, whom Dr. Bailey had known from her tenure at Bell Labs, helped implement the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which essentially delivered a free market for the airline industry by eliminating government control of fares, routes and the establishment of new airlines.Dr. Bailey “was the most ardent deregulator on the board,” Kahn told the Times in 1984.As dean at Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Bailey emphasized the importance of information technology in business, requiring students to use PCs and encouraging sometimes-reluctant professors to adopt an internal computer network to improve communication. The school also established a $15 million international management institute and a center for entrepreneurship under her leadership.AdvertisementDr. Bailey joined the Wharton School in 1991. A fellow professor in the business economics and public policy department, Olivia S. Mitchell, recalled her as “a stellar econo …

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