Woman economists "just think different". Really?

Survey "finds gender gap".

There's a new study out that claims to find "significant differences" between the ways male and female economists think. At least, that's the way it's being reported:

Here's the USA today headline:                                                               

He said, she said: Economists' views differ by gender                     

Marginal Revolution heads with:                                                              

Women economists see the world differently                                  

Sciencedaily.com:

National Survey of Economists Uncovers Vast Gender Gap in Policy Views                                                                                                     

So men and women just think differently... even when given the same training, and broad agreement in terms of core economic principles and methodology? Must be biology.

Or is it? A closer look at the study, which questioned several hundred members of the American Economic Association, shows the biggest difference in thinking is on gender discrimination in their own field: 76 per cent of female economists say men are favoured when it comes to faculty opportunities in economics, and 80 per cent of male economists say women are favored or that there is no favouritism.

Here are the other differences:

  • Men are 20 per cent more likely to think the US and EU have too much government regulation.
  • Women are 24 per cent more likely to believe the US government is too small.
  • Women are 41 per cent more likely to favour a more progressive tax system.
  • Men are 31 per cent less likely to agree with making US income distribution more equal.
  • Women are less likely to support Arctic drilling.
  • Men are more likely to support voucher use in education.

There's a pattern here: women consistently vote in favour of policies which correct discrimination. As a discriminated-against group, this isn't surprising. Hardly sure evidence of different male/female "wiring".

I'd hazzard a guess that this study was commissioned to help rather than hinder equality drives. But flagging its findings as evidence of tomato/tomahto thinking between the genders is not likely to do the job.

A woman and some lego. Photograph, Getty Images.

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.