Thursday, 7 January 2010

Economists are less generous, but not by training

An often made claim is that economists are more selfish than other people. There is some experimental and real world evidence to this effect. But the interesting question to ask is, Do selfish people self select into Economics, or do Economics students get indoctrinated by the material they are covering in classes.

Elaina Rose and Yoram Bauman have a new paper which asks Why are Economics Students More Selfish than the Rest?
A substantial body of research suggests that economists are less generous than other professionals and that economics students are less generous than other students. We address this question using administrative data on donations to social programs by students at the University of Washington. Our data set allows us to track student donations and economics training over time in order to distinguish selection effects from indoctrination effects. We find that economics majors are less likely to donate than other students and that there is an indoctrination effect for non-majors but not for majors. Women majors and non-majors are less likely to contribute than comparable men.
A few things look interesting from this: for econ majors training doesn't seem to affect their behaviour, so there is a section effect working here. However when it comes to non-majors they do become more selfish when exposed to Economics. In other words, economic arguments are quite convincing. Third, the fact that both female majors and non-majors are less likely to contribute than comparable men. I have always said men are nicer!

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