Friday, September 28, 2007

econ: is it a man thing?

In the last issue of The American, there was an interesting little blurb on Bryan Caplan's article, "The Gender Gap of Economics: Why Do Men Think More Like Economists?" (submitted to Social Science Quarterly).

On the website where Caplan talks about his article, he reproduces a figure that he dropped from the paper because of space constraints. The data depict a strong correlation between interest in and knowledge about economics. Moreover, men have more of both compared to women-- for both students in particular and adults in general. (The data come from the National Council on Economic Education's What American Teens & Adults Know About Economics survey.)

As Caplan puts it, the figure...
shows the relationship between how interesting people think economics is and how much they know about it. Notice that the rank order matches up neatly: Male adults know the most about economics and are the most interested in it, followed by female adults, male high school students, and female high school students.

From the conclusion of Caplan's paper...

Economists and the public have systematically different beliefs about how the economy works. But the public itself is divided, and gender is one of the main fault lines....

In place of Burgoon and Hiscox's hypothesis, I propose a simple alternative: The gender gap of economics grows with education because men are more interested in economics. They are therefore more likely to take advantage of their formal and informal opportunities to learn economics, leading the gender gap to grow with education. Even though few men actually major in economics, men are more likely to belong to social networks where knowledge of economics is relatively abundant. As a result, even a small initial difference in interests can lead to a large difference in knowledge.

What I have observed...First, females tend to do better in class-- at least in terms of playing the game, doing well on tests, etc. (But that could be a school thing, rather than an econ thing.) And second, our econ majors tend to be men or older ("non-traditional") women.


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