Bank of England's Ben Broadbent apologizes after menopause remark backlash
LONDON—Bank of England Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent was forced to apologize after describing the U.K. economy as “menopausal,” putting the central bank in a new communications controversy.
The remarks in an interview with the Daily Telegraph sparked complaints about sexism and ageism. The timing was particularly unfortunate for the BOE, coming two days after Governor Mark Carney hosted a conference on diversity in central banking. They follow a slew of criticism over the bank’s messaging on monetary policy, which dominated Carney’s interest-rate press conference last week.
Claire Perry, a Conservative lawmaker, said on Twitter that she “can’t be the only 50+ woman objecting to Ben Broadbent’s pejorative description of the U.K. economy as ‘menopausal.’ I’ve never been more productive! How about ‘andropausal’ instead? Then you get declining potency and bonus grumpiness thrown in!”
Prime Minister Theresa May also waded into the controversy, with her spokesperson saying that “it’s not a term she would use.”
“I’m sorry for my poor choice of language in an interview with the Telegraph yesterday and regret the offence caused,” Broadbent said in a statement issued Wednesday. “I was explaining the meaning of the word ‘climacteric,’ a term used by economic historians to describe a period of low productivity growth during the nineteenth century. Economic productivity is something which affects every one of us, of all ages and genders.”
The snafu may cloud Broadbent’s future at the centuries-old central bank. In a recent Bloomberg survey of economists, he was seen as the second-favorite, behind FCA chief Andrew Bailey, to succeed Carney at the top of bank next year.
Broadbent, 53, was educated at Cambridge and Harvard, and has spells at the U.K. Treasury and Goldman Sachs under his belt. The longest-serving MPC member, his current term expires in June 2019.
In the interview, he ran into trouble when trying to describe how the U.K. may be between productive phases, something that last happened in the late Victorian era. He said that the phrase “climacteric” means “menopausal but it applies to both genders.”
As an aside, he said, “I once got an economist to explain the origins of the word ‘climacteric.’ As soon as he started talking to all these middle-aged men about how it means you’re past your peak and you’re no longer so potent, they all said: ‘We understand.’”
That wasn’t enough to save him from the headline splash that the U.K. economy is “menopausal” because it’s past its productive potential.
Andrew Sentance, an economist at PwC and a former BOE policy-maker, said on Twitter that Broadbent’s comment was “not the best turn of phrase.” Kate Barker, one of the few women to have served on the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, said: “As reported, I found them pretty offensive.”
It’s not the first time a BOE official has landed himself in hot water during a newspaper interview. In 2016, Chief Economist Andy Haldane sparked controversy when he suggested in an interview with the Sunday Times that buying a home was a better investment than a pension.
Last week, Carney was yet again on the defensive about bank’s communication. Questions on the value of his forward guidance policy dominated more than half of his press conference. When asked why the bank had let expectations for an interest-rate increase get to near certainty before dashing them, Carney said that households and businesses understood the bank well.