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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.