Sharon Oster, barrier-breaking economist, dies at 73


Sharon Oster, an economist who shattered glass ceilings in academia as the first woman to become a full professor at the Yale School of Management and later as the first woman to be named its dean, died Friday at her home in New Haven, Conn. She was 73 years old.

The cause was lung cancer, said her daughter, Emily Oster.

Professor Oster has challenged 19th-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle’s description of economics as ‘the dismal science’ as she helped shape the curriculum of the management school, which began awarding degrees master’s degree in business administration in the late 1990s.

Dean from 2008 to 2011Taking the job amid a severe recession, she delayed pay raises, took a $100,000 pay cut and diverted savings to subsidize student internships and ramp up fundraising to build a new building.

“I was a pragmatic, determined leader, and that’s the kind of person you need in a recession,” she reportedly said. in an article for the School of Management when she retired in 2018.

“Oster was one of the leading figures in the academic realm of business and strategy — the kind of person who was equally at home in a seminar room as he was in a boardroom,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. and the former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Even as a teacher in the 1980s, she expanded the school’s curriculum to prepare students for careers in nonprofit organizations and explored ways in which such organizations could generate ongoing revenue streams.

She became an expert in competitive strategy, microeconomic theory, industrial organization, regulatory and antitrust economics, and nonprofit strategy. And as a colleague said, she looked at the impact of discrimination against women through the lens of an economist.

Professor Oster argued, for example, that one of the reasons employers refused promotions to women and minorities was to keep their profile low so that they were not poached by competitors keen to diversify. their ranks.

His books include “Modern Competitive Analysis” (1990); “Strategic Management of Nonprofit Organizations” (1995); and “Principles of Economics” (2011), written with her Karl E. Case and her husband, Ray C. Fair, also a professor of economics at Yale.

Professor Oster received the school’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1988 and again in 2008. She won the American Economic Association’s prestigious Carolyn Shaw Bell Award in 2011, given to “a person who has made advance the status of women in the economic profession”.

When asked how she thrives in a predominantly male environment, Prof Oster told The FinancialTimes in 2012, “I have tough skin, direct manners and a sense of humor.”

Sharon Monica Oster was born on September 3, 1948 in Bethpage, NY. His father, Kurt, was a roofer. His mother, Karin (Nelson) Oster, was a waitress.

After graduating from Bethpage High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1970 from Hofstra University, where her teachers encouraged her to pursue a career in economics and research. She earned a doctorate in economics in 1974 from Harvard, where she was one of two women in a class that numbered about 45 men.

She joined Yale’s economics department as an assistant professor in 1974 and became a professor at the School of Organization and Management in 1982. (The name was changed to School of Management in 1994.)

She married Professor Fair in 1977 and the couple raised their three children – two boys and a girl – on the principles of practical economics and the ideals of feminism.

Emilie Osterprofessor of economics at Brown University in Providence and best-selling author of data-driven books on parenting, said Bloomberg Businessweek in 2020 that her mother faxed the grocer a shopping list instead of wasting time wandering the aisles of the store, and that even though their mother was the best cook, their parents alternated cooking dinner to demonstrate that what was not just a woman’s job.

Sharon kept her own last name. “My parents flipped a coin when I was born,” Emily said. “Mom won. So I’m Oster, middle name Fair. Then they alternated for the rest of the kids.

In addition to his daughter, Professor Oster is survived by her husband and their sons, Stephen Fair and John Oster; her brother, Ron Oster; and eight grandchildren.

Professor Oster was a believer in clarity, in education and in business.

“To confuse someone is not to convince them,” she said. “It’s an important lesson in good management. Sometimes in life you can get somewhere by confusing people, but that’s not a good long-term strategy. It’s much better to be able to find the right answer,” she added, “and to be able to explain why it’s the right answer.”

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