Sharon Oster, economist who breaks barriers, 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 appointed dean, died Friday at her home in New York. Haven, Conn. She was 73 years old.

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

Professor Oster challenged 19th-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle’s description of economics as “the dismal science” while helping to shape the curriculum of the business school, which began awarding MBAs in late The 1990s.

As dean from 2008 to 2011, she took office in the midst of a severe recession, delayed pay raises, took a $100,000 pay cut and diverted savings to subsidize student internships and accelerate fundraising to build a new building.

“She was a practical leader, who got things right, and that’s the kind of person you need in a recession,” she said in an article for the School of Management when she retired in 2018.

“Oster was one of the leading figures in the academic field of business and strategy, the kind of person who was just as comfortable in a seminar room as he was in a boardroom,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. and 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 those organizations could generate ongoing sources of income.

She became an expert in competitive strategy, microeconomic theory, industrial organization, antitrust and regulatory economics, and nonprofit strategy. And as a colleague put it, she examined the impact of discrimination against women through the prism of an economist.

Professor Oster argued, for example, that one of the reasons employers denied promotions to women and members of minorities was to keep their profile low lest they be poached by competitors eager to diversify their ranks.

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

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

Asked how she thrived in a predominantly male environment, Professor Oster told The Financial Times in 2012: “I have a thick skin, a direct manner and a sense of humour.”

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

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

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

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

Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University in Providence and best-selling author of data-driven books on parenting, told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2020 that her mother would fax the grocer a list. shopping instead of wasting time wandering the store aisles. and that despite the fact that her mother was the best cook, her parents alternated making dinner to demonstrate that it was not an exclusive job for women.

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 children.”

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

Professor Oster was an advocate for clarity, in teaching and in business.

“Confusing someone is not convincing them,” he said. “That is an important lesson in good management. In life, you can sometimes get somewhere by confusing people, but it’s not a good long-term strategy. It’s so much better to be able to come up with the correct answer,” she added, “and to be able to explain why it’s the correct answer.”

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