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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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

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