Does Studying Economics Breed Greed?
|October 31, 2013||Posted by Staff under Social Change|
In the U.S., economics professors gave less money to charity than professors in other fields — including history, philosophy, education, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, physics, chemistry, and biology. More than twice as many economics professors gave zero dollars to charity than professors from the other fields.
Economics students in Germany were more likely than students from other majors to recommend an overpriced plumber when they were paid to do it.
Economics majors and students who had taken at least three economics courses were more likely than their peers to rate greed as “generally good,” “correct,” and “moral.”
Students were given $10 and had to make a proposal about how to divide the money with a peer. If the peer accepted, they had a deal, but if the peer declined, both sides got nothing. On average, economics students proposed to keep 13 percent more money for themselves than students from other majors.
In another experiment, students received money, and could either keep it or donate it to the common pool, where it would be multiplied and divided equally between all participants. On average, students contributed 49 percent of their money, but economics students contributed only 20 percent. When asked what a “fair” contribution was, the non-economists were clear: 100 percent of them said “half or more” (a full 25 percent said “all”). The economists struggled with this question. Over a third of them refused to answer it or gave unintelligible responses. The researchers wrote that the “meaning of ‘fairness’… was somewhat alien for this group.”
But maybe studying economics doesn’t change people. It could be self-selection: students who already believe in self-interest are drawn to economics.
Along with directly learning about self-interest in the classroom, because selfish people are attracted to economics, students end up surrounded by people who believe in and act on the principle of self-interest. Extensive research shows that when people gather in groups, they develop even more extreme beliefs than where they started. Social psychologists call this group polarization. By spending time with like-minded people, economics students may become convinced that selfishness is widespread and rational — or that giving is rare and foolish.
When faced with choices between cooperating and defecting, overall, 60 percent of economics majors defected, compared with only 39 percent of non-economics majors. Further, non-economists became less selfish as they matured; economists didn’t.
Business is now the most popular undergraduate major in the U.S., and it’s growing in market share. Business degrees are right behind education as the most common graduate degrees conferred in the U.S.