‘Hotter,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘feminazi’: How some economists discuss their female colleagues

Measuring sexist attitudes and hostility toward women is difficult. But for her senior thesis in economics at the University of California, Berkeley (fittingly, the same university that rejected Strober), Alice Wu found a way.

Wu, who will begin doctoral studies at Harvard University next year, mined over a million posts on the anonymous online message board, Economics Job Market Rumors, to analyze how economists talk about women in the profession. The website, a popular forum for graduate students and faculty members to gossip about jobs and hiring, offers a window into conversations that are otherwise almost impossible to document. And as Wu explains in her paper, “Anonymity presumably eliminates any social pressure participants may feel to edit their speech, and thus creates a natural setting to capture what people believe but would not openly say.”

The 30 words most uniquely associated with women are (in order): hotter, lesbian, bb (Internet terminology for “baby”), sexism, [a vulgar term for breasts], anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, [another vulgar term for breasts], pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.

The terms most associated with men are rather different. They include: mathematician, pricing, adviser, textbook, motivated, Wharton, goals, Nobel and philosopher. Indeed, the only derogatory term in the list is a slur used against gay men.

Elizabeth Winkler, Washington Post, August 22, 2017

Why you tip as much as you do

The standard view in the field of economics is that tipping in any service encounter where you don’t expect to be a return customer is a behavioral quirk — something that, in a world where humans are rational, return-maximizing actors, really should not happen.

There, researchers found the average tip from diners who were offered wrapped chocolates with their check was 18 percent, but it was only 15 percent under normal circumstances. It turns out friendly gestures from your server can have a surprisingly large impact on your tipping decisions, though you may not realize it. Dozens of experiments with similar designs (using playing cards or other randomizing devices to determine what “special treatment” customers would receive) in a variety of restaurants around the country have reinforced just how much small acts affect tips.

Katherine L. Milkman, New York Times, August 23, 2017

Powerball: Somebody’s gotta win, eventually

Despite widespread acceptance of state-backed lotteries, when Powerball ticket sales declined in all but four states and sales nationwide dropped by 19 percent, the Multi-State Lottery Association decided it was time to do something.

Industry insiders attributed the decline to “jackpot fatigue,” which meant that casual players bought tickets only when a huge jackpot was up for grabs.

The resolution: The association looked at rule changes to address the falling revenue problem and implemented them in 2015….This change meant the overall odds of winning any prize improved, going from 1 in 32 to 1 in 25, but the odds of winning a jackpot would drop from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million.

Psychologists and behavioral economists, however, have long known that the perceived value of a lottery ticket may be quite different from expected value.

Manel Baucells and Gerry Yemen, Washington Post, August 23, 2017

When Are You Really Random? After Age 24


More than 3,400 people from 4 to 91 years old participated in the experiment.

Measuring how participants performed against several factors, including age, sex and educational background, the researchers found a strong trend only with age.

On average, performance improved from childhood to the mid-20s. It then stayed relatively high until the 60s, after which it began to decline.

Steph Yin, New York Times, August 25, 2017

Cats Are Not Medicine. Pets don’t actually make people healthier, according to a new analysis. Ability to own a pet does.

A fat gray cat

It is with sincere regret that I report that this week’s RAND cat-health study did exactly that. The cat owners appeared healthier than people without pets, but the difference went away when the researchers factored in that the cat owners were likely to be healthy for other reasons, mostly bearing on socioeconomic status.

Even the researchers didn’t want to find what they found.

James Hamblin, The Atlantic, August 10, 2017

Want to Be Happy? Buy More Takeout and Hire a Maid, Study Suggests

That’s the takeaway of a study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, whose findings suggest that spending money to save time may reduce stress about the limited time in the day, thereby improving happiness.

“People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.

Niraj Chokshi, New York Times, July 27, 2017

Hand Gestures May Boost Students’ Math Learning


A simple wave of the hand can boost a child’s performance in mathematics. A new study published in Child Development found that students perform better when instructors teach with hand gestures—something that teachers in the United States do less commonly than teachers in other parts of the world.

In a test given immediately afterward, students who observed the gestures performed better. A second test, 24 hours later, also showed that the gestured-to students had an edge over the other group.

Linda Poon, National Geographic News, April 7, 2013


‘Til Trump Do Us Part: The Relationship Deal Breaker We Never Saw Coming

“That’s a 43% increase in women who feel like they need to make their thoughts known. Every month, that goes up,” Langston says, adding that eHarmony statistics show little difference between urban or local, city or country: It’s consistent across the red and blue board.
Elizabeth Kiefer, Refinery 29, August 1, 2017

Christians are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on lack of effort

Which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor: lack of effort on their own part, or difficult circumstances beyond their control?

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,686 American adults to answer that question — and found that religion is a significant predictor of how Americans perceive poverty.

Christians, especially white evangelical Christians, are much more likely than non-Christians to view poverty as the result of individual failings.

Julie Zauzmer, Washington Post, August 3, 2017

Nasty, Brutish and Short: Are Humans DNA-Wired to Kill?

A key proponent of this biological view is psychologist Steven Pinker, another Harvard researcher whose writing, particularly his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, has significantly shaped the conversation about human violence in recent years. In his 2002 book The Blank Slate, Pinker wrote, “When we look at human bodies and brains, we find more direct signs of design for aggression,” explaining that men in particular bear the marks of “an evolutionary history of violent male-male competition.” One widely quoted estimate by Pinker places the death rate resulting from lethal violence in nonstate societies, based on archaeological evidence, at a shocking 15 percent of the population.

Josh Gibabatiss, Scientific American, July 19, 2017