Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jun/09

25

Althouse’ rule on sex-differences in action

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A few years ago Ann Althouse told Bob Wright that there was an easy way to do sex-differences research without being pilloried: make sure that the generalizations work out so that they are flatter women. Over at Feministing, Are Women More Risk-Averse in Investing?:

A 2005 study from the Center for Financial Research at the University of Cologne documented differences between male and female fund managers: Women managers tended to take less extreme risk and to adopt more measured investment styles (which perform well over time). And according to research published in 2002 in the International Journal of Bank Marketing, women tend to make investment-related decisions with a detailed, comprehensive approach, while men are more likely to simplify data and make decisions based on an overall schema.

I always get nervous when scientists or sociologists start making wide-sweeping gender claims, but I’m also not scientifically sophisticated enough to evaluate whether these studies are valid.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Matt Yglesias says don’t worry. Well Matt, you should worry. Reality is often best understood on a case-by-case basis, but no matter how its joints are carved up there are numerous interlocking connections. To be a risk taking egomaniac is in bad odor today for obvious reasons. But do we want everyone in all domains to minimize risk? I doubt it. And I’m sure people can think of domains which are value-added to society where male risking taking is a benefit, and Right Thinking People know that when it comes to Good Things women are always at least as well endowed, if not more, than men, on average.

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4 comments

  • Astra · June 26, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Insert Camille Paglia quote here: “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.”

  • Caledonian · June 26, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Is that quote in favor or opposed to male dominance of civilization?

    It’s not at all clear to me that we’re better off than we’d be living in grass huts.

  • Tony · June 26, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Whether women are more risk averse (and there’s probably some truth to that generalization), unbalanced risk averseness in our society is not a virtue, and in some cases it can actually make us less secure. Anyone who’s been through airport security should know that. Insecurity can result from diverting resources from investigating medium risk targets to low risk targets, and by expending energy equally on all targets, we spread ourselves too thin to give adequate attention to higher risk targets.

    Other examples occur in the medical field. In order to reduce the probability of medical error, process improvement committees proliferate layers of extra paperwork and checklists that physicians have to complete every time they perform a medical procedure. The result is that the physician devotes a smaller fraction of patient encounter time to performing the actual procedure. In order to maintain the number of procedures performed per unit time, the procedure itself must be executed more quickly, which introduces another risk.

    Unbalanced risk averseness has prevented construction of additional nuclear power plants in the United States, leading to higher dependence on coal. Mining and burning coal carry another set of risks, probably less dangerous than those associated with nuclear fission.

    Risk averseness slows the pace of medical research and makes it more expensive. Some of this is necessary, but overexuberant risk averseness means that some people will die before life-saving technologies can be developed to save them.

  • MattXIV · July 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Ygles doesn’t seem to get that a major part of investing is the buying and selling of risk – you pay to reduce your risk with yields. The fact that male fund managers are more likely to be managing higher risk funds is a curiousity that should have zero impact on the sector, since the distribution of risks in funds is a response to demand for investment products. So, the studies are pointless tripe unless they show a given gender producing better or worse yields at a given risk level.

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