Monday 15 February 2010

Gender and economic thinking

Lots of work finds that men do better in economics courses and in surveys of economic thinking than women. Stephen Hickson has been doing some work in our economics department on correlates of performance in our stage one courses and was curious about this gender gap. I sent him this 2000 piece by Ziegert which finds that personality type explains a good chunk of differential male-female performance in economics courses.

Myers-Briggs personality tests sort individuals along four basic dimensions (allowing for gradations within the dimensions): from Introverted to Extroverted (I/E), from iNtuiting to Sensing (N/S), from Thinking to Feeling (T/F), and from Judging to Perceiving (J/P).

As you might expect, economists lean heavily to the thinking side of the scale. And, if you sort personality type by gender, women are more likely to be F type than T type: there's about a 60/40 split in favour of T for men and 60/40 in favour of F for women. This will matter in the social sciences more than in the hard sciences because most of what economists have to say runs counter to F-type priors about the way the world works.

Ziegert finds that the male-female gap disappears once she's corrected for personality type. She concludes:
These results suggest that personality types do affect student performance in economics whether measured by course grade or by performance on the TUCE exam. Unlike previous research, I found support for the hypotheses that thinking (T) students outperform feeling (F) students on both course grades and TUCE exams. Given that men are more likely to be classified as thinkers (T) than are women, and women are more likely to be classified as feelers (F) than are men, this result has implications for the relative performance of men and women in principles of economics. After adjusting for personality preferences, the "gender gap" in economics, which historically has favored men, disappears: gender is not a statistically significant predictor of performance in economics whether measured by course grade or performance on the TUCE exam.
So we probably need to do more to appeal to our F-type students: explaining that it's because we care about the poor that we don't like minimum wages and that it's because we care about poor people overseas that we support sweatshops. It's harder to make the argument when it's counterintuitive (what do you mean that policies that say they help the poor don't help the poor!), but we've gotta do it.

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