Homophobia is very much in the news these days as the movement to allow gay marriage gathers pace in Europe and America. In Britain, conservatives grandees like Norman Tebbit are worried about a lesbian queen producing an artificially inseminated heir to the throne (seriously).The French parliament passed a bill to allow it just recently but there have been strong popular opposition. Just today a man killed himself in Notre Dame Cathedral, not far from where I am temporarily based, in protest. A few days ago research was released, based on the World Values Survey, that concluded that France was the country in western Europe least tolerant of homosexuals.
By coincidence I happen to be working on the effect of education on what I call liberal values (or tolerance) and early versions of this work focused on homophobia, see here and here also. I use the European Social Survey data (spanning the period 2002-2010) which uses a different instrument to the WVS. Specifically it asks people’s agreement or otherwise (on a 5 point scale) to the statement “Gays and lesbians should be free to live life as they wish”. My other outcome is a measure of sexism based on responses, on a similar 5 point scale, to the statement “Men should have more rights to jobs than women when jobs are scarce”. I was curious to know what the pattern of responses was across countries (though my research is a micro-study using only UK and Irish data). So I plotted (see below) the cross country means (across the population) of binary measures of sexism and homophobia. The binary measures score 1 if people agree or agree strongly with the statement about gays and disagree or disagree strongly with the statement about jobs (and =0 otherwise).
Countries to the right of the graph are less homophobic and countries to the top are less sexist. There is a fairly strong positive correlation with Denmark and the other Nordics leading in tolerance, though Finland deviates a bit from this trend. Southern and eastern Europe is at the other extreme (especially Russia, Ukraine and Turkey). Ireland is one of a clump of western European countries that are pretty liberal on both accounts. By this data, France is not the most homophobic country in western Europe being to the right in the picture of Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Austria and certainly Greece and Italy. It shows that these cross-country patterns can be quite sensitive to measurement. It seems that there is a common tolerance factor around Europe and, most importantly, that there is huge variation in those attitudes.
For many people, the answer to this question is a pithy “Yes”, possibly augmented by some expletives. It is an interesting and potentially important question. After all, if economists’ attitudes and values are very different from the general population then one might be cautious about taking their advice. This in turn partly depends on whether economics is value-laden, a complex question which I’m not minded to get into. Fortunately it is possible to test, to some degree, whether economists (or their students anyway) differ from others and there are several papers that do this.
A good summary of some of this work by Frank, Gilovich & Regan is here. They consider a number of studies using experimental game theory to see whether economics students differ in their behaviour from other students. Using the classic Ultimatum Game and Free Rider Games one finds that, yes, economics students are more selfish or less pro-social. Another finding is that business students are more selfish (or more rational) in the Ultimatum Game than psychology students.
The title of the Frank et al. piece “Does studying economics inhibit cooperation” is misleading since, as far as I know, all that is established is a correlation. In other words, it may be the case that the people who select into economics or business studies were less co-operative or pro-social beforehand. This could be tested. It would also be very useful to extend this work to other groups of students (literature, science etc) as well as the non-student population. There is a separate literature looking at cross-cultural differences in experimental game theory.
I was reminded of this topic by a just released paper that shows that students who select into experiments only do it for the money but that those who do and those who don’t aren’t really different.
A paper I co-authored with Veruska Oppedisano (London Metropolitan University) has just been published in Labour Economics. Its gated (but obviously worth $31.50 of which I won’t get a red cent).
This paper estimates the marginal effect of class size on educational attainment of high school students. We control for the potential endogeneity of class size in two ways using a conventional instrumental variable approach, based on changes in cohort size, and an alternative method where identification is based on restrictions on higher moments. The data is drawn from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) collected in 2003 for the United States and the United Kingdom. Using either method or the two in conjunction leads to the conclusion that increases in class size lead to improvements in student’s mathematics scores. Only the results for the United Kingdom are statistically significant.
I found the study below fascinating and not just because it gives me an excuse to be less than fluent when I’m teaching.
Appearances can be deceptive: instructor fluency increases perceptions of learning without increasing actual learning
S K Carpenter et al. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review May 2013
The present study explored the effects of lecture fluency on students’ metacognitive awareness and regulation. Participants watched one of two short videos of an instructor explaining a scientific concept. In the fluent video, the instructor stood upright, maintained eye contact, and spoke fluidly without notes. In the disfluent video, the instructor slumped, looked away, and spoke haltingly with notes. After watching the video, participants in Experiment 1 were asked to predict how much of the content they would later be able to recall, and participants in Experiment 2 were given a text-based script of the video to study. Perceived learning was significantly higher for the fluent instructor than for the disfluent instructor (Experiment 1), although study time was not significantly affected by lecture fluency (Experiment 2). In both experiments, the fluent instructor was rated significantly higher than the disfluent instructor on traditional instructor evaluation questions, such as preparedness and effectiveness. However, in both experiments, lecture fluency did not significantly affect the amount of information learned. Thus, students’ perceptions of their own learning and an instructor’s effectiveness appear to be based on lecture fluency and not on actual learning.
I have created a new page here which is a resource page for Behavioural Economics (or its illiterate off-shoot Behavioral Economics ). Primarily for the benefit of my students, you may find it interesting or useful.
A paper I co-authored with colleagues Michael Fahy, Orla Doyle, Fionnuala McAuliffe & Michael Robson with the above title has been published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, details here. This is part of a larger project that we have been working on.