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                          

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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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while he would hold a free vote, party policy would be changed to oppose military action, an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote. Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, members made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbot and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet. There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.