Women, Liberty, Marketing, and Social Science
By Bryan Caplan
Steve Horwitz and Sarah Skwire have restarted a long-standing debate about the shortage of libertarian women. They make a very fair point: Libertarians should have been friendlier and more respectful to women – and turn over a new leaf forthwith. As I’ve argued before, this is good general advice: Libertarians should be friendlier and more respectful, period. To quote Mark Twain, “It will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
Still, while I share Steve and Sarah’s recommendations, I’m afraid they’re conflating two issues: marketing and social science.
The marketing issue: How can libertarians better sell their ideas to women?
The social science issue: Why is there a shortage of libertarian women?
It’s possible that the marketing issue is the answer to the social science issue. Maybe bad marketing fully explains the libertarian gender gap. But then again, maybe not. A person could embrace the perfectly sensible view that libertarians should improve their marketing, yet still doubt that the best marketing in the world would close the gap.
My study of personality psychology makes me one of the doubters. On the popular Myers-Briggs personality test, there is a huge Thinking-Feeling gap between men and women. For men, the breakdown is roughly 60% Thinking, 40% Feeling. For women, the breakdown is roughly 30% Thinking, 70% Feeling.
This Thinking/Feeling disparity explains a lot about gender gaps in college major and occupation. There’s every reason to think that this disparity can help explain gender gaps in political and social views.
To make a long story short: Thinking people tend to have “hard heads” and “hard hearts,” while Feeling people have “soft heads” and “soft hearts.” Unsurprisingly, then, Feeling people tend to hold more anti-market views. I’ve similarly found strong evidence that males “think more like economists.” This gender belief gap increases with education, consistent with a simple model where male and female students gradually learn more about whatever their personalities incline them to study.
The whole premise of “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism,” of course, is that we should unbundle the hardness of our heads and the hardness of our hearts. Logically speaking, we can combine hard heads and soft hearts. Empirically, though, this combination is rare. And that’s why Bleeding Heart Libertarians have their work cut out for them. If you’re trying to sell libertarianism to Feeling people, “hard head, soft heart” ideas are more persuasive than “hard head, hard heart” ideas. But the libertarian remains at an inherent disadvantage against intellectual rivals pedaling “soft head, soft heart” ideas.
Marketing matters. Libertarians can and should better market their ideas to women (and people, for that matter). But marketing can only do so much. Women really are more Feeling than men, and selling libertarianism to people with Feeling personalities is inherently difficult.
Please don’t be angry at me, I am only a messenger.