Monday, 11 August 2014

Another Take on Endogeneous Sexism

Bryan Caplan of EconLog had a nice piece of economic thinking recently in which he asked how sexism - in the sense of people's by and large deeming members of the opposite sex as less "good", all things considered, than are members of one's own sex - can arise endogenously. His answer: people discriminately choose their (mostly opposite-sex) spouse and their (mostly same-sex) friends. This means that spouse and friends are "good" by the individual's estimation. But the individual usually spends a lot more time with the spouse's friends than with friends of friends, and the former are much more second-hand friends than the latter are apt to be (this need not necessarily be the case, due to the rise of consumption-complementarities in marriages, but there should be a lingering tendency). Since second-hand friends are not subject to the individual's screening, they tend to be thought of as of lower quality, all things considered, than are first-hand friends. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
I posted an alternative answer in the comments to the original question, and now it occurs to me that it might fit on this blog, too. Essentially, it goes like this: men and women both tend to view themselves as better than the average of their sex and better than their spouse, even when they are not (in Lake Wobegon, all the children are famously "above average" and it is a common finding that people consider themselves better drivers, etc., than average - a tendency known as the 'Lake Wobegon Effect'). If I am the best man in the world, it would make sense that I should marry the best woman in the world. Since I am better than her, it makes sense that men are better than women. My wife will reason similarly.

More generally, all that is required is that one believes oneself to be better than average, better than one's spouse, and one's spouse to be of a similar rank among thon's (i.e. his or her) sex. Endogenous sexism disappears in this framework in case one puts one's spouse on a pedestal, though I am doubtful that is a frequent occurrence. While I think my version requires only fairly innocuous assumptions and works rather well, I have to say I like Professor Caplan's version better. Nevertheless, here is mine with the hope that it, too, might amuse.

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