29 January 2017

Gender and self-improvement

In response to a reader request, Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution posted advice for, ostensibly, avoiding the tenure trap (more generally, remaining intellectually productive and engaged). One of his pieces of advice is to write a (potentially unread) blog post once a month. This reminded me of an observation(?) I made some years ago: that men seem more interested in self-improvement than women do. This particular observation was based on a small sample of Silicon Valley types: men interested in "life hacks", eliminating cognitive biases, and optimizing their career trajectories. This is merely one observation: does it have a grain of truth in it, though? Is there a gender difference in the desire for self-improvement? Some simple google research indicated that my question, in fact, was far too naive. One study investigated gender differences in (self-reported) reactions to criticism, and found that men -- in part due to their higher self-confidence -- were more positive about the idea of self-improvement.

This wasn't at all what I meant by self-improvement. What I meant was: the desire to learn and develop new skills. Even though the Harvard Business Review piece supported my observation, it wasn't quite what I wanted to know.

A cute analysis of social media posts of New Year's Resolution gets at this even more. They grouped resolutions into twelve categories. And in fact, men do appear more likely to resolve to "learn something new" or "travel more" (note that statistical significance is not reported). Conversely, women were far more like to want to become more organized. This wasn't evidence I was right. This was evidence I had rigged the question: I had chosen a definition of self-improvement that was nearly tautological: men are better at things they are better at. This particular characterization isn't quite fair (nor quite tautological in a slightly weaker, and still plausible, form), but it serves to illustrate a point learned in fifth grade: science proceeds only from a clear statement of the hypothesis. Definitions matter.

Next time, I'll tackle a different way definitions may fail to serve us. Potential future topics:
- a theory of theories
- knowing when it's the one
- potato & beet latkes
- school choice
- thought experiment: teleportation
- the effect of minimum wage on rent inflation
- gender, job changes, wage growth, and constrained mobility
- judicial bias
- belonging

11 January 2011

Buttons up or down?

For years I have been using, apparently incorrectly, the terms "button-up" and "button-down" interchangeably. (Who cares which way you button your shirt, anyway?) However, as it turns out, a button-up shirt is simply a dress shirt; a button-down shirt, on the other hand, is a shirt with a button-down collar, and is considered "a more sporting style". Who knew?

17 November 2006


Hello. My name is Erica, and I don't have a blog, as indicated by my blog title. I did not start this blog, I do not own this blog, nor am I writing this post. My dearest friend Randy is the mastermind behind this whole project. My intention in starting this blog is so that Randy can tip his hat to me when I recommend him recipes, or, if it should happen, I inspire him to compose some other nonfood related post.

Bye for now!