Monday, July 28, 2014

Who's talking?

I remember hearing about some study finding that women spoke an average of 20,000 words per day while men spoke only 7,000.  It's hard to get an accurate count of something like that, so I figured it was based on a small non-representative sample.  According to a recent story in the New York Times, it probably wasn't based on any kind of sample:  it seems that the numbers were just invented.

The story went on to suggest that "this stereotype may dovetail with the idea that what women have to say isn’t important — that it’s 'fluff,' and that "such sterotypes [may] make women less likely to speak up, or men less likely to hear them..."  I had a different impression--that it was associated with the idea that women had more "emotional intelligence" than men.  A 2000 Gallup survey contains has some relevant information.  It listed a number of characteristics and asked if each was "generally more true of men or more true of women" (people could volunteer that there was no difference).  It also asked if "the country would be governed better or governed worse if more women were in political office" and "if you were taking a new job and had your choice of a boss would you prefer to work for a man or a woman?"  The characteristics were:  aggressive, emotional, talkative, intelligent, courageous, patient, creative, ambitious, easy-going, and affectionate.  77% say women are more talkative, 11% say men, and 10% say no difference, which is about the same as when the question was first asked in the 1940s.

Opinions about which sex is more intelligent, courageous, and patient help to predict opinions about whether more women in office would mean better or worse government.  Opinions about which sex is more intelligent, courageous, and easy-going help to predict preferences about a man or woman as boss.  That is, people who see women as more intelligent, courageous, patient, or easy-going are more likely to think that the country would be governed better or prefer a woman as a boss.  The others, including talkative, do not have a statistically significant relationship.  (For what it's worth, the estimates for talkative are positive --favorable-- with t-ratios of 1.3 and 1.0).

You might wonder if belief that woman are more talkative is part of a pattern, going with negative views about women's intelligence, courage, etc.  It has a significant negative association with courageous--that is, people who see women as more talkative tend to see men as more courageous--but not with views about which sex is more intelligent, easy-going, or patient.  Overall, the correlations with opinions about other qualities were low.

So in conclusion, the stereotype doesn't seem to matter much either way.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another "don't know" problem

When looking at the tabulations for the questions in my last post, I noticed a difference in the percent of "don't know" answers of self-described liberals and conservatives.  I then checked the others to see if the pattern persisted.  It did, and there are strong parallels between the gender and liberal/conservative differences.  I'll give the average for the eleven questions to make it simpler:

                    Correct     Incorrect      DK
Liberals              38%          33%         29%
Men                   35%          31%         33%
Conservatives         31%          28%         40%
Women                 30%          29%         41%

Liberals and men give more correct answers, more incorrect answers, and fewer don't knows.  The ratio of correct to incorrect answers is about the same in all groups (slightly higher among men and liberals).

So what's going on?  Although I still think my point about gender differences from the last post is partly correct, it seems to be incomplete.  My interpretation:
 (a) People sometimes interpret "conservative" to mean "cautious" (as I've discussed in other posts, a significant number of people seem to understand liberal and conservative in non-political senses)
(b) differences in "don't knows" don't involve people who know or have no idea, but people who "sort of" know, or could make a fairly good guess.  Conservatives and women who are in that middle group may be less likely to venture an answer.

Some insight is provided by the question:   "Which one of the following people is not a college dropout:   Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, designer Ralph Lauren, entertainer Ellen Degeneres, Apple founder Steve Jobs, President Calvin Coolidge, movie mogul David Geffen, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller?"
It seems safe to assume that very few people definitely knew the true answer or confidently believed an incorrect answer.*  But you could apply some pieces of common knowledge (e. g., that a lot of people who became rich from computers or the internet were college dropouts) to make an educated guess.   So the group differences in "don't knows" were essentially a matter of willingness to try.  

                    Correct     Incorrect      DK
Liberals              20%          43%         27%
Men                   14%          53%         33%
Conservatives          8%          50%         42%
Women                 11%          44%         45%

Men were more willing to try than women, but there was little or no difference in the probability of getting it right if they tried.  Conservatives were less willing to try than liberals. Given the fairly small number of liberals and large number of don't knows, the liberal/conservative differences in the conditional probability of getting it right, although large, are not statistically significant.  

*Coolidge graduated from Amherst College, so I count him as the correct answer.  I'm not sure it's accurate to call Rockefeller a college dropout--see his biography here--but he didn't have a college degree.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What's the matter with men and/or women?

 Recently (actually, six weeks ago, but I lose my sense of time when the semester is over) the New York Times had a piece called "Women and the 'Don't Know' Problem," about the reasons that women are more likely to say "don't know" in polls than men are.  It started out by saying that women were less willing to express opinions than men were, but then turned to suggesting that men were more likely to claim knowledge that they don't actually have--"men comfortably hold forth on topics that they have little expertise on."  That theme was picked up in the reader comments, many of which comfortably held forth about the basic psychology of men and women.

An alternative hypothesis is that most poll questions are about politics and public affairs, and men may be more interested in those topics (or feel more obligation to be somewhat informed about them) than women are.  In order to choose between them we need to compare men and women on a range of questions, both political and non-political.  There is a series of surveys by Vanity Fair/CBS News which occasionally ask factual multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of issues.  I looked up the last 11 (it was going to be ten, but the last survey I looked at included two) examples, which involved:  what Donald Trump had said about himself, who Bubba Watson is, how many justices are on the Supreme Court, who Jamie Dimon is, how many universities are in the Ivy League, what Kwanzaa is, who Judd Apatow is, who Wayne LaPierre is, which one of a list of people was not a college dropout, where Northwestern University is located, and who Thomas Paine was.

The results:
                women            men
              c  i  dk         c   i dk
Trump         56 20 25   46 30 23
Watson        23 27 51         39 23 37
Supremes      36 49 16         45 49 5

Dimon         12 18 70         16 22 62
Ivy Leage     31 48 20         38 46 15
Kwanzaa       63 16 21         57 19 24

Apatow        12 22 65         16 21 62
LaPierre      19 26 56         30 23 46
dropout       11 44 46        14 53 33

Northwestern 29 36 35         39 37 23
Paine         41 16 44         47 18 35

Women are more likely to say that they don't know for ten of the eleven questions.The idea that men are more likely to claim knowledge even if they don't have it suggests that the ratio of correct to incorrect answers will be higher among women.  But that's true for only two of the questions, Donald Trump and Kwanzaa. Men are more likely to offer correct answers on nine of the questions, and more likely to offer incorrect answers on only six.

Overall, men just seem more likely to know the right answer (or be willing and able to make an educated guess) on most of the questions.  Of course, these questions aren't a representative sample of anything.  There are a couple on which you would expect men to have more knowledge (e. g., that Bubba Watson is a golf pro).  But it is noteworthy that on the two purely political questions--the Supreme Court and Wayne LaPierre--men are much more likely to identify the correct answer, and no more likely to pick the incorrect answer.

This suggests that the "problem" doesn't result from a general psychological tendency of women or men--it's that most polls focus on issues that men are more likely to know about, or have opinions about.

[Source:  iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinin Research]