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So, that Y chromosone, it's the bad trading chromosone, right?
April 9, 2008 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Although Larry Summers drew fire for rather inappropriate comments illustrating differences between Men and Women, we all know they exist.

For example, Veale (2007) showed that twice as many men snore than women, while Meyers-Levy (1989) illustrated that
females develop stronger linguistic skills much earlier than males, an advantage that was maintained throughout life.

Joseph (2004) provided results [.pdf] showing men were much better at dart throwing than women, while Tversky & Kahneman (1973) determined that unlike males, prone to making assumptions, women processed all available information when making decisions.

Author John Gray took these observations to their logical conclusion, observing that Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

So is it any wonder to learn that women are much better investors that men?

Indeed, research by Barber & Odean (2001) published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that single women overall earn 2.3% more from their equity market trades than men. After marriage, however, this excess alpha shrinks to 1.4%, no doubt due to the distractions of trying to understand spoken Martian.

According to Simone de Beauvoir, "One is not born a woman but rather becomes one."

Apparently though, this research seems to show that all women are born traders.
posted by Mutant (62 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is no better or worse. There is only different. Embrace it, move on.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:20 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


According to Simone de Beauvoir, "One is not born a woman but rather becomes one."

de Beauvoir was clearly not a developmental biologist. It turns out that female may be the default state regardless of whether you are XX or XY (NB: This is not 100% certain ... there is ongoing debate as to whether the 'default state' is neutral or female). That said, your maleness has to be turned on by the SRY genes (sex determining region of the Y chromosome).
posted by scblackman at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2008


It's okay to suggest that there are innate differences between men and women, as long as these differences suggest the superiority of women in some aspect.

(With regards to Summers, I think his remarks were inappropriate because of his role in a institution which has had trouble getting women on the faculty for reasons which I think have nothing to do with their innate ability. Regardless, I think some people would have reacted the same way even if he were just an independent researcher.)
posted by grouse at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Women dance like this, men dance like this.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:32 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The thing about darts is how mentally "practicing" a physical activity improves performance in that activity. It says that men get greater improvement from mental practice. So we should be able to become totally equal with visualization and corrective thinking.
posted by MNDZ at 7:37 AM on April 9, 2008


That said, your maleness has to be turned on by the SRY genes (sex determining region of the Y chromosome).

Speak for yourself. For me it was hearing "Little Red Corvette" on the radio when I was 10.
posted by felix betachat at 7:37 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


It says that men get greater improvement from mental practice.

Which is why we are all so good at sex.
posted by yhbc at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2008


> Author John Gray took these observations to their logical conclusion...

This is not a form of logic that I, a male, am familiar with.
posted by ardgedee at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Mutant, this would make a neat post to your own blog, but as an FPP, it's all over the place. The old Summers controversy is your first link, then inside we have references to Gray and De Beauvoir, plus a scattering of links about snoring, darts, decisions and stock markets. Maybe you meant to structure the post with interesting stuff related to the investment issue, but it hasn't quite worked.

I'm not trying to crap in this thread, and I hope no one else comes along to do so, but can you come into the comments and clarify what you want to do here? Are there any other links related to the investment issue, or sex differences decision making in general, that might be cool? I'm familiar with K & T's work on heuristics, but an Amazon link to their most famous monograph isn't much meat. Which of their papers gives us detail about sex differences in information processing? Is it available on the web?
posted by maudlin at 7:42 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


There is no better or worse. There is only different.

This is a poor investment strategy.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:42 AM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


this research seems to show that all women are born traders.

Nothing like a massive overgeneralization to start your day!
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


This thread is useless without charts.
posted by srboisvert at 7:48 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a poor investment strategy.

It's not so good in the kitchen, either.
posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on April 9, 2008


Although Larry Summers drew fire for rather inappropriate comments illustrating differences between Men and Women

This is not why Larry Summers "drew fire." He drew fire for suggesting that women were less capable scientists than men are, and for the dismal history of female promotion at Harvard during his tenure.

It's hard to take anything you write seriously after your got this so wrong.
posted by OmieWise at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


This is a badly organized and inflammatory post. Sorry. I'm surprised it's still here, to be frank.
posted by jokeefe at 8:14 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


grouse -- "It's okay to suggest that there are innate differences between men and women, as long as these differences suggest the superiority of women in some aspect."

Well, that 2.3% difference in annual investment returns over a twenty year horizon becomes about a 60% difference in the terminal value of the female investor's portfolio, when compared to the male's. So, superior. Very superior.

maudlin a few of us at Uni have been bouncing this paper back and forth and chatting about it; interesting reading to be sure, and folks outside of the University I'm associated with are almost always surprised about the papers conclusions. Especially so at the Investment Bank I work for (yeh, no surprise there).

I didn't want to make a single link FPP, nor did I want to render it inaccessible by adding a bunch of econometric stuff that probably less than 5% of MeTa readers would be able to understand (or even care about). So I tried to spice it up a little with other differences between the sexes that I could find.

The complete citation for the paper you're asking about is Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). 'Availability: a heuristic for judging frequency and probability.' Cognitive Psychology 5, 207-232. , and it has been reprinted several times. It deals with how men and women process cues during the decision making process. I do have academic access to this paper, but realise that a large number (perhaps most) of MeFi readers won't, and I didn't want to effectively lock out folks. The Amazon book does indeed have this paper, and really was the best I could for (for free). Not to worry about crapping; feedback is fine.
posted by Mutant at 8:15 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tversky & Kahneman (1973) determined that unlike males, prone to making assumptions, women processed all available information when making decisions.

See? That's exactly what a man would say. Two men. Did it occur to them to process how much information "all available information" is?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2008


boys have penises, girls have vaginas
posted by stenseng at 8:19 AM on April 9, 2008


unlike males, prone to making assumptions, women processed all available information when making decisions

BULLSHIT. When I got caught balling my wife's sister, she immediately starting yelling and throwing stuff at me, despite my calm protestations that it was a "just a dick thing". If she had only been able to process THAT information then I wouldn't now be restricted to seeing my son one weekend a fortni-

Wait a second. Is this just the kind of "boyzone" comment that's killing metafilter? Shouldn't I place myself in the position of my intended audience before making what is essentially a tired attempt at misogynist humour? I mean, I don't even have a wife! My whole comment is just pointless attention seeking, and I really should just think abou-

Hang on - am I over-analysing here and sabotaging my own confidence? I'm actually a pretty OK guy, I think ... I mean, I'm real good at darts, for example. Of course I've been under-performing in my equity trading activities of late, but all in all I think I can safely say tha-

Woah ... just had a flashback to when I was balling my wife's sister. Fuck, that sure was one hot piece of ass. WOOH BOY! Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah: poor linguistic skills? Well maybe YOU have the linguistical skill poorness that your trying to say that I have a skillessness ... of. Oh fuck it YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2008 [8 favorites]


In his talk, according to several participants, Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them ''daddy truck," and one ''baby truck."

Ya know, there's this crazy tv show aimed at young boys, where they treat trains almost like people! Naming one of them "Thomas" and another of them, "Gordon".

Obviously this is an attempt to turn boys into girls.
posted by emperor.seamus at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2008


Thanks, Mutant. But as you can see from the comments so far, hardly anyone has started seriously discussing the research on investment. What information on the web, a click away, would support and flesh out anything presented in that paper, or, conversely, argue against its conclusions?

There's nothing wrong with a single-link FPP if that link is strong. Since economic and psych theory can be a little dry for many, I agree with your decision to bring in something to make it more attractive and accessible to non-professionals, although I think it may have stood on its own as well with a little context instead of links. But what is relevant , like the K&T monograph, isn't immediately accessible, and what's immediately accessible, like the Masters thesis on darts and the old Summers controversy, may not be that relevant.
posted by maudlin at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2008


this post seems designed to start a trainwreck.
posted by gaspode at 8:30 AM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is no better or worse. There is only different.

I would argue that generally, women are better at breast feeding, and men have a greater natural aptitude for peeing while standing up.
posted by quin at 8:32 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's a lot to be wary of when it comes to "the emerging science of sex differences;" much of the "research" is flawed, anecdotal or invented. That link doesn't reference much of the FPP's material, but Language Log in general does a pretty convincing job of debunking some of the most flagrant recent offenders in the field "made-up science".
posted by Shepherd at 8:32 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This type of binary 51%=100% thinking really drives me nuts.

If you take 10,000 men and 10,000 women and find out that 8,325 men like the color green the best and 8,326 women like the color green the best, you could say that based on your study more women like green than men.

Then comes the headline:
Women Like Green More than Men

Next people are posting comments in Metafilter about why women like green more than men and what evolutionary forces caused this and what it means about society.

THIS DRIVES ME NUTS!!!!!!!
posted by eye of newt at 8:37 AM on April 9, 2008 [12 favorites]


So wait. You think that Summers' remarks were inappropriate because of his job? They weren't inappropriate because they were a dumb, uniformed, pointless, inflammatory, sexist example of sloppy thinking based on so-called common sense and not empirical research? Yes, obviously his role as the head of an institution that employs women makes his remarks worse, but that can hardly be the only or even the main reason that they were inappropriate.
posted by oddman at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2008


No thank you maudlin, good points all. I do have to say that I wasn't too surprised at Barber & Odean's results, since we've known for years that most retail investors make the classic mistakes of selling too low, buying too high and trading far too frequently. As we also know that men are much less risk averse than females in Real Life, sharply higher equity market returns seemed to make perfect sense to me. As Barber & Odean point out, (most) guys blow it primarily because they trade too much.

A difference of 2.3% may sound small, but with a long run rate of return of roughly 11% for the equity market as a whole, this is indeed significant.

Especially so when considered over a sufficiently long horizon. Compounding is your friend when seeking to build wealth (the other side of the coin: when you owe money its a killer).
posted by Mutant at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2008


Another Language Log link, but more pertinent to the FPP: I think everyone would benefit from reading this amazing LL post: an examination of how neutral science gets turned into bad science gets turned into broad stupid stereotypes like the (fictional) one eye of newt mentions above.
posted by Shepherd at 8:54 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


boys have penises, girls have vaginas

Not necessarily.

...*runs*
posted by aihal at 8:56 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vive la difference!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2008


They weren't inappropriate because they were a dumb, uniformed, pointless, inflammatory, sexist example of sloppy thinking based on so-called common sense and not empirical research?

That's a long list of adjectives, and I don't think they all fit. As for dumb, pointless, etc., here's one noted cognitive scientist who disagrees as well, and if I recall there are also many others who have expressed that this is possible.

Let's get this straight: my personal opinion as someone who has been in academic science for a few years, and as someone who has repeatedly witnessed barriers to female success, not to mention outright sexism, makes it hard for me to believe that the biggest factor in the relative dearth of women in academic science research is anything other than these barriers. But that doesn't mean that other factors do not also contribute.

What I am pointing out is that when anyone suggests that men are more successful in some areas because of some innate biological advantage, there are immediate cries of "sexism!" and "bad science!" Sometimes it is insinuated that even the idea of biological differences in intellectual ability due to sex is beyond the pale. Somehow, when studies point out that women are more successful in other areas, this response is not seen. I have also participated in many discussions of how women actually make better lab heads than men for various reasons, but any suggestion of how men make better lab heads is immediately squelched.

As for inflammatory, it certainly was (and that's why it was not so bad that Summers lost his administrative job), but science does not progress by testing only hypotheses that are not inflammatory.
posted by grouse at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2008


Men and women are exactly the same. Anyone who suggests otherwise, directly or indirectly, should be taken behind the chemical shed and shot.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:12 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


didn't want to make a single link FPP, nor did I want to render it inaccessible by adding a bunch of econometric stuff that probably less than 5% of MeTa readers would be able to understand (or even care about). So I tried to spice it up a little with other differences between the sexes that I could find.

I think this is where you went wrong. You underestimated, and condescended to, your audience.

I think if you wanted people to care about and understand these findings, perhaps some links to material that gave context to issues of gender as related to finance would have been appropriate. Instead, you splayed all over the place, using a style that does indeed seem calculated to annoy. The ostensible subject of your post is how women and men may make financial decisions differently based on one study. Well and good. So you flesh it out using:

-a Wikipedia page and a three-year-old link about a powerful sexist
-a study on snoring
-a study on linguistic development
-a study on dart throwing
-a study on information processing (from 1973!)
-a link to a weak fifteen-year-old bestseller on gendered communication in relationships
-a six-year-old study, the supposed subject of your post, buried in the 'more inside'
-a Wikipedia page about a seemingly randomly chosen woman of note

Your post would have been all right if you had

1. Fine-tuned it to focus on the study that you felt would be of interest to the MeFi community.
2. Added only links that pertained to the study topic and aided in understanding or giving context to the study.
3. Avoided the urge to present some sort of sweeping roundup of supposed gender differences in everything from psychology to dart-throwing to relationships, which is well beyond the scope of any single FPP.
4. Assumed that MeFites are capable of understanding the content without the need to "spice it up" with unrelated information. Some of the best posts here draw very little attention, but if there is a subset of people whom you genuinely think would be interested in discussing the topic, write for them. The attempt to draw in people with invocations of Larry Summers and Simone de Beauvoir is disrespectful and pandering.

Really, we are such tools for any sort of "OMG Men and Women Are Different, Says Study!" stories, and we are so inadequately equipped to properly parse them. This stuff doesn't help. If there are going to be FPPs labout such topics, I really wish the standard for quality and newsworthiness could come up to a higher level.
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Somehow, when studies point out that women are more successful in other areas, this response is not seen.

My guess would be this is because as a general rule even if there was some fairly solid proof that women were better at this than men, men would still dominate the workplace. When someone pulls out some research saying that men are more suited to science and maths than women, it's not that much harder to say that this means women should get out of the lab and into the kitchen and leave the real work to the big boys.

Of course I'm not suggesting that anyone here would actually think that, but it took a long time to get where women are today and I know that I'd be hella defensive If I saw what looked like a threat to that.
posted by emperor.seamus at 9:45 AM on April 9, 2008


quidnunc
Your comment :


Wait a second. Is this just the kind of "boyzone" comment that's killing metafilter? Shouldn't I place myself in the position of my intended audience before making what is essentially a tired attempt at misogynist humour? I mean, I don't even have a wife! My whole comment is just pointless attention seeking, and I really should just think abou-

may be witty as all hell, but it certainly does do just what you stated in the excerpted paragraph. It's obnoxious, at the least. Or so I see it.
posted by Hobgoblin at 9:52 AM on April 9, 2008


even if there was some fairly solid proof that women were better at this than men

See the history of "professional" cooking.
posted by Miko at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2008


I don't know, there's another question that I have to wonder about. Let us say there are generalized differences between groups X and Y of people on earth, (trying to reduce the emotional baggage of discussing this). Does society benefit more from trying deliberately to adjust to the percieved general difference, or is it actually better to avoid that kind of adjustment, because it is only the freaky .001% of either group that is going to make significant strides in any field, regardless of the generalized position of any minority group.

I'm sorry, but "Harvard tenured professor," seems like such a very specialized role that requires very unique individuals. The idea that you could afford to not consider any minority group X for that sort of position is ludicrous, because in ANY group of people that .001% is a minority. Even if you could say something like "women shouldn't do math," wouldn't the loss of the one or two true geniuses (who are freaks in either men or women or whatever) you get per CENTURY be so extremely detrimental that the whole basis of the argument is ludicrous?

On another note, my mom has a doctorate in probability, and absolutely kills me and my brother and father in all kinds of spatial reasoning. The idea that there is VALUE in these generalizations is the thing that completely blows my mind. So 10% of men and 7% of women are good at math. Would you like to adjust society so that you lose that 7%? Idiocy. You have to find a way to truly break the hold that stereotypes have on hiring, and quotas may be the only acceptable method until we find a way to completely eliminate irrelevant prejudices from these sorts of decisions. (I still think some prejudices, like, "Can this individual person actually do math," are valuable when hiring math professors).
posted by SomeOneElse at 10:07 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Female suicide bombers only get 70% of the virgins in heaven that male suicide bombers get.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:30 AM on April 9, 2008


I agree. Men and women are different. Some times very different. Some times not.

And it's about as revelatory and interesting as a discussion on the quality of airline food.
posted by tkchrist at 10:35 AM on April 9, 2008


For all of the complaining I hear about Larry Summers, so few have read the actual transcript. Here's a few salient facts one might draw from it:

1) This wasn't Summers, a little into his cups, sitting down with a bunch of old white guys holding forth on what he really thought about women. Instead, he was invited to speak at a conference on diversity on the topic of diversity. Specifically, he was to speak partially on "women's representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions" - or, basically, why do we have so few women in the math department? How do we fix that so we can get to our diversity goal?

2) He comes up with three potential explanations - and is not terribly committed to any one of them. One of them is purely academic socialization, something that I hear people at Metafilter talk about constantly, that boys are encouraged to focus more on math and girls less so. Another is socialization as related to work attitudes expected by gender as would be drilled into people, some thirty-odd years prior, also not arguable. Women who were in high school thirty and forty years ago by-and-large had different career expectations placed upon them from their parents and society at large. His third hypothesis (not a proven theory) was that, given even a slight difference between men and women in the areas of math, the far, far end of the bell curve (from which presumably one would like to draw math professors at institutions of higher education) would have a disproportionally large male-to-female ratio. It is this last, backed up by some reasonable science, that somehow got distorted into CHICKS CAN'T DO EQUATIONS ... "Math is hard, let's go shopping!"

I read through the transcript in detail when it all happened, and skimmed it again just now. Is there anything in there which called for him to lose his job and the demonization he continues to receive?

For everyone who simply reacted (rather than read the transcript) to the fourth-hand impression they got, filtered through the minds of people ready, no, eager to take offense at slights real, perceived, and conjured: shame.
posted by adipocere at 10:38 AM on April 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


As I remember, he was saying that even if the mean intelligence of women and men was exactly the same, a slight difference in the variance of the distribution would produce more male scientists.
posted by matthewr at 10:53 AM on April 9, 2008


I don't know, adipocere. He suggests that women aren't as successful because they take time out to have families, basing this on secondhand anecdotal data about one former colleague's Harvard class. Then he says that he believes lack of female success can be explained like this:

my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem
In other words, women are too uncommitted and family-focused for success, and that his self-admittedly sloppy math says that based on their 12th-grade testing, women are unlikely to make it to the narrow end of the bell curve.

He follows that with an essentialist and anecdotal argument about girls not liking trucks and people on kibbutzes, saying "I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize." Then he throws out twin studies as an argument that socialization is bunk. All this is deployed to a specific end: to suggest that discrimination and stereotype within college admissions and hiring divisions is not primarily responsible for the underrepresentation of women in certain college programs. It's that conclusion - that institutions themselves bear no culpability, but that some combination of social and inborn factors causes women to fail - that is the central problem.
posted by Miko at 10:58 AM on April 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


I feel that I 'm being trolled, but I can't resist.

A small point: it's "chromosome" with an 'm'. I don't think that there is any word "chromosone", but if there were, it would mean "colored sound" or something of the sort. Appropriately enough :-)...

A slightly larger point: chromosomes are collections of large numbers of diverse genes. So the concept of "the chromosome for __" makes even less sense than the concept "the gene for __" usually does.

And most important, what the cited study says is that "Our theory says that men will underperform women because men trade more and trading is costly ... Men lower their returns more than women because they trade more, not because their security selections are worse."

So the difference, whatever its cause, is not "bad trading", it's "more trading" (77% annual turnover vs. 53% annual turnover).

In fact, "During our sample period, men earned average monthly gross and net returns of 1.501 and 1.325 percent; women earned average monthly gross and net returns of 1.482 and 1.361 percent."

Thus the men's average gross returns were about 1.3% higher; the women's average net returns were about 2.7% higher, because they paid less in commissions and other trading expenses.

The article suggests that the women would also do better if they traded even less than they did.

Finally, though it's swimming against the current to point this out yet again, the study is looking at a fairly small difference is group averages, in a situation where within-group variation is large compared to this difference. It's not so much that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but rather that men are from a wide region that is slightly shifted relative to the equally wide region that women are from.
posted by myl at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Is there anything in there which called for him to lose his job and the demonization he
> continues to receive?

Certainly. If you don't just fall all over yourself demonstrating that you're more with us than we are with ourselves, you're against us. You're sending the wrong message. Our current President understands perfectly. So did Joe Mccarthy.
posted by jfuller at 11:00 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I took the grab-bag of links in the FPP as humorous. I liked it.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:02 AM on April 9, 2008


Miko, you're selectively quoting and exaggerating Summers' points.

You say that his conclusion is "that institutions themselves bear no culpability". But a few paragraphs down, he clearly states that this is not the case:
The most controversial in a way, question, and the most difficult question to judge, is what is the role of discrimination? To what extent is there overt discrimination? Surely there is some. Much more tellingly, to what extent are there pervasive patterns of passive discrimination and stereotyping in which people like to choose people like themselves, and the people in the previous group are disproportionately white male, and so they choose people who are like themselves, who are disproportionately white male. No one who's been in a university department or who has been involved in personnel processes can deny that this kind of taste does go on, and it is something that happens, and it is something that absolutely, vigorously needs to be combated.
posted by matthewr at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Although I think I'm interpreting his comments differently than you are, I would not say that I'm exaggerating.

Below your excerpt he says:
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.
He is describing, pretty clearly, the reasons he thinks there are few women in top-tier positions and programs.

I'll take the lump of agreeing that it's an exaggeration to say that he ascribes "no" culpability to institutions. But he is arguing that it is not among the more important factors - intrinsic ability and lack of committment to work are, he says, more important.

The outcry over these comments was entirely justified.
posted by Miko at 11:25 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I think would be a really interesting follow-up to the Barber & Odean paper is to try and see whether women (as a group) tend to do better *overall* with their financial management strategy. The data for this study are drawn from the trades of people using a discount brokerage firm--but I would be wholly unsurprised to find that more men than women use discount brokerage firms (which don't offer a lot of hand-holding or advice).

I can't remember where I read this, but one of the blogs I read had a piece about a year ago comparing the type of "advice columns" that you find in typical women's magazines (Cosmo, Glamour, O) versus mens magazines (FHM, Maxim). To the extent that women's magazines even talk about personal finance, it tends to be much more focused on how to pay down credit card debt or how to budget. They almost never talked about trading. Men's magazines, on the other hand, were more likely to dispense "hot stock tips" and other pieces of advice that weren't particularly useful or deep, but assumed that readers had much more of a baseline financial literacy.

Not that men and women's magazines are the best indicators of pop culture out there, but I think there's a grain of truth in the observation that men are talked to as though they know and are fluent in the language of finance, and women generally aren't. That could certainly lead to some overconfidence (and underconfidence) in one's own understanding of the market, and willingness to buy and sell individual stocks through a discount brokerage.

I would guess that (on average!) the type of woman who feels confident enough to open up an account at Scottrade or E*Trade or some other discount broker probably has more familiarity with the market than the average guy who does so. I would guess that more women, particularly women who grew up a generation or two back, use full-service brokers who give the illusion of providing guidance and advice, or stick with mutual funds, or even forgo the equities market altogether and keep their money in CDs.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:27 AM on April 9, 2008


For everyone who simply reacted (rather than read the transcript) to the fourth-hand impression they got, filtered through the minds of people ready, no, eager to take offense at slights real, perceived, and conjured: shame.

Thanks, mom, but I read the transcript before and you still haven't convinced me.

Summers was responsible for administering an organization where his personal, largely anecdotally derived prejudices might be expected to have a substantial impact. He wasn't talking about Indy-car driving. I don't have an opinion on whether he should have lost his job because of it (although my understanding is that this incident, if anything, was more a final straw), but the criticism of him was well-justified.

For everyone who simply reacted to the notion that Summers was unfairly tarred by a "PC" brush, without taking into account Summers' own power to exercise his prejudice, or the material effects of this type of sexism: shame.
posted by OmieWise at 11:32 AM on April 9, 2008


Wow guys I really have to apologise. It genuinely wasn't my intention to annoy, disrespect, condescend, pander or otherwise disrupt the community.

To recap: I had some finance research that I found very interesting. Wanted to share. Didn't want to post it was a "pure" finance FPP as a lot of folks might just ignore some very accessible research, a publication that many of us at both the Uni and my day job found very intriguing and highly enlightening. And as I was concerned that some other folks might chime in with the usual grim warnings of endtimes and chaos, I didn't really want this to be a pure finance FPP.

So - and I should have known better - tried to make it funny by coming up with some ridiculous comparisons about men and women (snoring compared to advanced linguistic skills, darts compared to effective information processing) rather than including other financial links. And it sorta / maybe / well it didn't really work.

I actually do a fair amount of public speaking in my banking job so, as I said, I should have known better as humour presented in such a public / verbal context is very touch and go, and risky in the best of times. Even more so in multicultural contexts (hint: never jokingly call or otehrwise compare Egyptians to "dogs". Never. Not even jokingly). Best to keep it light, and I probably went too deep here.

I already privately mailed apologies out to Miko and a few others. I genuinely appreciate the feedback, and will integrate. Next FPP will not only be informative & interesting, but also dry and humourless (well, maybe a little humour, but only base, sexual innuendos. All right then. NO HUMOR at all).

On preview: iminurmefi - I should have dropped the male / female comparisons and fleshed out with your links. Some of the folks in my research cluster at Uni are doing just what you suggested with different brokers, different asset classes, etc. Publish or perish!!
posted by Mutant at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2008


Huh, looking further into the paper, it definitely looks like my suspicions are correct... according to Table 1, only about 20 percent (!!) of all the accounts were opened by women, and compared to the men who opened accounts, those women were more likely to be unmarried and have no children.

It's kind of surprising that the authors don't even mention the potential for selection bias here--I mean, as a woman who loves investing and all things financial, I'd sure like to believe their findings, but it's pretty clear that there's something going on with the relative samples of men and women they've drawn. I wouldn't necessarily expect it to be 50-50, since men as a group outearn women and would thus probably have more assets, but 20-80 is more than a bit skewed, and there's clearly something else going on here before those households even make it to the brokerage firm.

(Anyone? Anyone? Not that I don't love to rehash the Summers debate again, but the linked paper is actually pretty interesting too.)
posted by iminurmefi at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2008


Ah, found the blog post I about men and women's magazines and their respective approaches to advising their audiences about money. Ever since I read that, I find it really hard to leaf through magazines at the gym and not be totally annoyed by their financial advice. Not that a lot of it isn't decent--albeit basic--stuff, but after you realize how much media that explicitly markets itself to women really assumes that we need to be instructed (again and again and AGAIN) about how to make a budget, you get sick of it.

Even of Suze Orman, who I used to like to read.

(And before someone chimes in, yes of course I realize that many, many, many people in this country need advice on how to budget and pay off credit card debt. It's just that after awhile, and particularly when you compare it to the media that is directed at men, it starts to feel a bit like the bigotry of lowered expectations. Look! Now you made me quote Bush! That's how annoyed it makes me.)

(And I'll stop commenting now, I promise.)
posted by iminurmefi at 11:55 AM on April 9, 2008


But he is arguing that it is not among the more important factors - intrinsic ability and lack of committment to work are, he says, more important.

I agree.

But where you use the pejorative "lack of commitment to work", he describes women spending more time with their family as an "legitimate" choice. I don't see anything hugely wrong with suggesting that employers' desire for uninterrupted work often clashes with women making the entirely legitimate choice to spend more time with their families (and to give birth, obviously). That this could be one cause of the academic gender gap seems uncontroversial.

Why does merely talking about potential biological gender differences in the variance of intellectual ability justify an outcry? There's nothing controversial about saying that women are in some biological sense different from men in that they live longer. Similarly, there's nothing controversial about saying there are significant biological differences in the mortality of male and female babies at birth and in early infancy.
posted by matthewr at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2008


I should say that I don't necessarily agree with Summers' conclusions, and I think that (probably along with most people) I don't know enough of the evidence to form a coherent opinion on the topic. But to reject the possibility that he's right merely because his opinions are offensive to some is irritating.
(Not to Miko in particular, just in general.)
posted by matthewr at 12:07 PM on April 9, 2008


Quite an amusing and interesting FPP and I realize it probably wasn't meant to stimulate another discussion of the Summers affair. But this kind of thing is annoying:

Why does merely talking about potential biological gender differences in the variance of intellectual ability justify an outcry?

He spoke out. Other people spoke out in reaction. He decided to resign. Nobody was prevented from doing anything. Of course he may be right about the questions on which he decided to indulge in ill-supported speculation, but the fact that he decided to do so while president of Harvard draws his suitability for that role into doubt, and amply justified the objections. Then he chose to resign.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:11 PM on April 9, 2008


Yeah, I have no doubt that resigning was the only option for him, and he should certainly have thought twice before opening his mouth (even though it was a private meeting). From a realpolitik point of view, this was a fairly stupid thing to do when one is the president of Harvard. (The corollary here is that the Board who appointed him in the first place were none too smart either — they must have known that Summers is blunt, undiplomatic and indiscreet even by economists' standards and sooner or later would get himself into trouble.)

But my question was normative not positive. Why should there be an outcry? Why do people feel justified in rejecting Summers based on a priori moral beliefs rather than evidence?
posted by matthewr at 12:18 PM on April 9, 2008


SomeOneElse writes "You have to find a way to truly break the hold that stereotypes have on hiring, and quotas may be the only acceptable method until we find a way to completely eliminate irrelevant prejudices from these sorts of decisions. (I still think some prejudices, like, 'Can this individual person actually do math,' are valuable when hiring math professors)."

Wouldn't that be a prequalification, instead of prejudicial?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:22 PM on April 9, 2008


Well, I guess my answer to that would be that they were rejecting the idea that president of Harvard should shoot his mouth off in this fashion. Doubtless there were voices amid the outcry who couldn't bear even to think about the idea of biological gender differences in intellectual abilities (although some of them may believe they have evidence for this view, of course). But I don't think the outcry would have gained the traction it did if there weren't many others who thought, well, sure it's possible he has a point, but these are understandably incendiary topics, and it is not asking too much that someone who wants to continue in his job as president of Harvard should address them thoughtfully, and not reach conclusions, when speaking in a professional capacity, that are based on nothing more than what his "sense" is — which is as much of an a priori moral belief as any in this episode.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2008


matthewr writes "But my question was normative not positive. Why should there be an outcry? Why do people feel justified in rejecting Summers based on a priori moral beliefs rather than evidence?"

Until 1943, women were not admitted to Harvard (Harvard Law School in 1953), and it has a history of being patriarchal, which is also still a problem at many other previously male-dominated schools. The ratio of men to women undergrads was around 4-1 throughout the '60s, and only a couple years ago did Harvard admit more women undergrads than men (more women than men in the US have been going through higher education for more than a decade). There is history and context to consider, not to mention the duties and responsibilities of a person in his position. If you're a president of a university, you are a public face of the school, and your words are going to reflect on the school's character. It's a very political position, and the president of an ivy league school like Harvard is a very important position - note that he was the Secretary of the Treasury in the last year and a half of the Clinton administration before his position as Harvard president.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:32 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oblig Simpsons quote: All I know is that no one is better than anyone else, and everyone is the best at everything.
posted by King Bee at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2008


to reject the possibility that he's right merely because his opinions are offensive to some?

I actually don't object to the possibility that he's right about some of his individual points. I can imagine a talk in which each point he raised could have been discussed within a different framework, because some (not all) of the issues he raises really are among the obstacles standing between young girls and eventual success in technical fields. one that focused on solutions rather than restating several times "That's just the way it is." What I object to is the way he deploys them in service to his predetermined conclusion - that whatever it is, it ain't his fault. It's the way women are and the way they act in society.

Where I would deploy some of the same points in an argument about why institutional change is necessary to increase opportunities for women, he deploys them to suggest that institutions are not themselves at fault. He fails to recognize how deeply institutionalized the very data --sometimes erroneous -- on which he is building his argument are. And he rejects socialization as an important argument, where I think it is the important argument. There is a blindness to his own socialization in this speech.

That, and the comments are really sloppy! They're cursory, off-the-cuff, anecdotal, and vague. His remarks about socialization are shallow, his mathematical model of variance is loosey-goosey and reductive. They are a recitation of old pro-sexism objections to women in the workplace, let alone to women in science in engineering. And he said them, knowingly wishing to "provoke," from his position as leader of an institution with a history of discrimination against women, Jews, and blacks, at the very least. He knew that not only was he about to advance an argument about the innate inferiority of women, he also wasn't going to bother to amass and share any real knowledge about the development of mathematical intelligence in girls and boys, about test bias, differences in resource allocation, the power of socialization. It is a talk given by someone looking for justification of the status quo, not deep examination of a problematic phenomenon. The very fact that he brings up a three-year-old daughter's attitude about trucks displays a naivete about the socialization of gender and how much identity development and reinforcement has already gone under the bridge by the age of three.

Were I on the board, I'd have asked him to resign, as well. It was indeed a fnal straw - Summers has had a long career of making statements that put the institution in an unfavorable light. He's a willing apologist for the limitations of potential levied by the patriarchy, and doesn't see his own institution or peer institutions as part of the problem or needing to address the problem. This passing the buck allows patriarchical systems to carry on indefinitely, because it deflects self-examination and obviates the need to take responsibility and lead change. If some factor other than Harvard is the real source of women's failure, then Harvard doesn't have to do anything about it.

As to whether we think it's problematic that women live longer than men: I think we do. Spending on medical research on men far outpaces such spending on women, so men are more likely to be the beneficiaries of discoveries about heart disease, cancer, and other frequent illness. Some of the shorter life expectancy is due to more frequent use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco on the part of men, and on the higher likelihood of being murdered - all concerning and all important to closing that life expectancy gap. The difference in life expectancy is not something that's been constant in human history - it's tightly tied to conditions in the environment and the economic status of the individual and the degree of development of the country they're living in. Because the factors contributing to the difference in lifespan are not immutable, and because they are reflective of social and environmental conditions including socialization, I think they should be of concern.
posted by Miko at 2:53 PM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


All this and nobody has linked to (or I don't think anyone has): Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl? If you can be the richest homosapiens in the world by being a "girly man", then why are we trusting Schwartzeneggar to balance the California State Budget? (And why are we surprised when he goes for the simplified stupid method of "cut 10% off everything"?) Just one example.

Female suicide bombers only get 70% of the virgins in heaven that male suicide bombers get.
Not true. Actually there are far less female suicide bombers because what woman would WANT to spend eternity with 72 Male Virgins?!?

And I thought the shortage of female scientists was based on the hiring requirement that they all be stunningly beautiful but only when they take off their glasses and let their hair down from the bun. Also the shortage of female physicists is obviously responsible for the naming of the "Large Hardon Collider" and "Higgs Bosom Particle".

You may now resume your serious discussion.
posted by wendell at 3:19 PM on April 9, 2008


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