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Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baumeister on Gender Differences and Culture

Nice discussion on Econtalk. I suspect Baumeister has slightly stronger opinions than he expressed to Russ.

Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and the author of Is There Anything Good About Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the differences between men and women in cultural and economic areas. Baumeister argues that men aren't superior to women nor are women superior to men. Rather there are some things men are better at while women excel at a different set of tasks and that these tradeoffs are a product of evolution and cultural pressure. He argues that evolutionary pressure has created different distributions of talent for men and women in a wide variety of areas. He argues that other differences in outcomes are not due to innate ability differences but rather come from different tastes or preferences.

The podcast got me through 30 pullups, 100 pushups, situps, kettlebells and cycling :-)


MtMoru said...

"He argues that other differences in outcomes are not due to innate
ability differences but rather come from different tastes or

How is it possible to tell the difference?

Christopher Chang said...

If you can rule out discrimination as the cause of the different outcomes, there are several ways.  Here are two:

1. Look at the top of the distribution.  There are a fair number of majority-female fields that are male-dominated at the top; taste/preference is obviously a factor when this happens.  In contrast, if a single gender dominates all over the distribution but the dominance is more and more pronounced the further up you go, that's probably ability-driven.
Example: female underrepresentation in the International Mathematical Olympiad is at least partly driven by taste, since some of the few girls who do show up are able to perform at the highest level--not the pattern you'd expect from a pure ability difference.  (This is a known problem with academic competitions, and top educators are working on more female-friendly approaches.)
2. Look at natural experiments.  Silicon Valley has a decent number of female engineers, but a large fraction of them are first- and second-generation East Asian and Indian immigrants.  The Valley is meritocratic enough that, in the areas where these engineers work in, one can conclude that any female underrepresentation is driven primarily by taste.

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