Men think more like economists than women do. According to my calculations in “What Makes People Think Like Economists?,” (Journal of Law and Economics 44(2), October 2001, pp.395-426) being male has roughly 16% of the effect of a Ph.D. in economics. Now a fascinating article by Burgoon and Hiscox points to an explanation for this gender gap.

Admittedly, B&H’s immediate goal is only to explain why women are more protectionist than men:

[G]ender shows up as a strong, consistent predictor of trade policy preferences. Women are much more protectionist than men. And this is not simply a function of gender differences in the standard political-economy variables. One might guess, for instance, that on average women tend to have less education than men, and lower levels of skills, or that they tend to be over-represented in terms of their employment in import-competing industries (e.g., the textiles and apparel industries). But even controlling for individual differences in education and other measures of skills, and allowing for the effects of industry-of-employment, the gender gap in attitudes is substantial. By one prominent estimate, for instance, men are on average 7.4 percent more likely than women to support trade openness…

But B&H’s explanation has much broader implications than they realize. How so? When studying the gender gap on protectionism, they noticed two things:

  • There is no gender gap for respondents who didn’t go to college. The whole gender gap exists because college-educated men are markedly less protectionist than college-educated women.
  • The older the college-educated get, the larger their gender gap becomes.

    B&H then put forward a simple explanation, though they admit their evidence is indirect: Four decades ago, only one econ student in ten was a women; now we’re up to one-in-three. Women disagree with economists about free trade because fewer women study economics.

    Now notice: While B&H’s explicit aim is simply to explain the gender gap on protectionism, their mechanism would in fact generate the kind of across-the-board gender gap that I reported in the JLE. The upshot: If B&H are right, we could make the gender gap of economics disappear by increasing female enrollment in economics to parity for a couple generations.

    I’d say it’s worth a try, and I’ll do my part: I’ve never refused to sign an add form, and I’m not about to start!