At a conference this weekend, I met a female grad student from another large Midwestern university. In the most recent candidate search in her department, she asked her advisor if the search committee could make some effort to find a female economist to add to their ranks (currently, there is one tenured female faculty member in the department).
His response was that the department has struggled to recruit women faculty because there aren't enough industry jobs in their mid-sized Midwestern city for their husbands to find employment. In her words, she called his bluff: the sociology department at the same university is over half female. She believes that the its a struggle to bring in female faculty because the department that is already so male-dominated (in other words, the reason there aren't more women in leadership is that there aren't more women in leadership). So, departments, go out of your way to change that dynamic and start figuring out how to answer this question.
I was doing a lot of hypothesizing above. I talked to a friend who has actually experienced the job market as a female economist and she brings to light two points. Both challenge my previously implied hypothesis that the econ departments were simply not doing enough to hire women, based on the fact that the sociologists have plenty.
1. Who do female sociologists and economists marry? There's a good chance that the pool of trailing husbands is not the same.
2. Female economists have more outside options. Many female economists could get jobs in cities like DC, Boston and New York City, where their spouses have huge amounts of industry (or academic) options. The non-academic job market in these large cities is probably smaller for sociologists.
h/t: Professor T.
Also, relocation is a whole lot easier when one spouse has a geographically dispersed occupation.