Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Money, men and women

Interview at Gene Expression with economic historian Greg Clark.

"I came to economics as an undergraduate expecting, as is the central view of economics, that the explanation for wealth and poverty would ultimately be located in social institutions and that people everywhere have basically the same aspirations and abilities.

But unlike most of my colleagues in economics I have always been interested in the mechanisms, and the fine details, of how things actually function. Much of modern economics is entirely theoretical, and even most empirical work in economics involves just looking at very high level correlations between variables such as income per person and education, or democracy, or the openness of trade.

When I set out in my PhD thesis to try and explain differences in income internationally in 1910 I found that asking simple questions like "Why could Indian textile mills not make much profit even though they were in a free trade association with England which had wages five times as high?" led to completely unexpected conclusions. You could show that the standard institutional explanation made no sense when you assembled detailed evidence from trade journals, factory reports, and the accounts of observers. Instead it was the puzzling behavior of the workers inside the factories that was the key."


Clark came to the conclusion that it's differences between the British and Indian workers themselves - maybe their culture, maybe their genes - that explained the difference. Naturally Laban will be on the side of the culture club. Some say that the recipe for economic success and productivity lies in the rule of law, limited government, property rights and sound currency - and Clark points out that these things existed in Britain for a long time before the Industrial Revolution.

They certainly didn't of themselves produce free markets - think of the guilds and the monopolies. And it's not genes that make the difference between 14th and 18th century Britain, unless the history books are missing something out. The culture must have changed between Edward I and Adam Smith.

I wonder how much sea trade, unregulated by guilds and monopolies and often exposed to competition (often decided by firepower rather than price, I admit - like some forms of competition today), although with its own complications of letters patent and financing, contributed to the idea of a free market - an idea that didn't seem at all obvious to many of our mediaeval forebears.

In a related big-human-theme vein (via), Professor Roy Baumeister on Men and Women.

The first big, basic difference has to do with what I consider to be the most underappreciated fact about gender. Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.

Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.

I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.

Right now our field is having a lively debate about how much behavior can be explained by evolutionary theory. But if evolution explains anything at all, it explains things related to reproduction, because reproduction is at the heart of natural selection. Basically, the traits that were most effective for reproduction would be at the center of evolutionary psychology. It would be shocking if these vastly different reproductive odds for men and women failed to produce some personality differences.

For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).


So the men went out to try risky things, while the women played safe and waited for the best offer. In the words of a famous evolutionary biologist :

"You are just like all women. They are ever content to build their lives on any incidental position that offers itself; whilst men would fain make a globe to suit them."

Thomas Hardy, The Return Of The Native

But hold on - WHY did the men have to build ships and go off, or do other things to differentiate themselves ? Why couldn't they just stay put like the women and have one mate each ?

"For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate" - that surely implies a lot of men wanted all the women (or as many as they could) for themselves - and presumably were willing to kill for them. We're back in Lawrence Keeley country, where warfare was endemic and a large percentage of males died violently before they could reproduce - but the women survived. At the prehistoric massacre site of Crow Creek, the bones of young women are under-represented. No prizes for guessing their fate.


So all of that culture and sex difference comes from our need to reproduce. And those novels and movies where the heroine prefers the bad lad to the steady guy, Heathcliffe to Linton, those complaints that 'women go for bastards' or that 'every woman loves a fascist' - there is or was some evolutionary truth there. Zar, zan, zamin - gold, women and land - that's apparently what the chaps really really want.

This makes me wonder again - because after all, we're (we being the native Brits) stopping reproduction - and a group generally considered to be the poorest and most deprived in the UK are, in reproductive terms, by far the most successful.

13 comments:

cramerj said...

This "men sailing off" is it true or relevant. Surely up and till recently most babies were born of agricultural workers - male and female. They bred from people in the same village - year after year.
The excess males born could be gay then. the numbers would fit.
This the world over.

JohnM said...

There's something fundamentally contradictory about this theory.

We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).

If some men sailed off it would logically improve the odds of the men who didn't sail off, unless it could be shown that the women deliberately waited for those men to return. I don't think the record shows that.

Yet those men who sailed off were motivated in part, by the impossible odds of getting a mate. That makes them sound like the 60% failures not the 40 achievers.

There is something circular about this argument.

JohnM said...

The culture must have changed between Edward I and Adam Smith.

Yes, it's called the Enlightenment!

rosemary said...

The 80/40 ratio isn't necessarily universal, though. Genghis Khan had enormously more descendents than Harold Hardraada and that was very largely because Norse society gave women a relatively high status - in fact some of them (Aude, Vigdis) did go into the sailing off business - and they tended to enforce "ownership rights" over their menfolk. I have a nasty suspicion that this is one of those "ratchet" effects whereby polygamy tends to encourage subservient women (keep your head down and you'll reproduce) and monogamy the reverse (don't let him get away).

Bert Rustle said...

Laban wrote “... Naturally Laban will be on the side of the culture club.” In my opinion that is putting the (conclusion/theory) cart before the (empirical observation) horse and naturally leads to debating “how many angles can dance on the head of a pin”. An empirical approach can be found in IQ and Global Inequality From the Preface: We address ... major theories of economic growth ... and introduce the 192 countries of this study ... we define ... intelligence ... showing that intelligence is a determinant of incomes and ... educational attainment and socio-economic status ... this is the basis of our theory that ... intelligence ...is likely to be a determinant of per capita incomes among nations ... tested by empirical evidence ... results are checked by exploring the impact of latitude and annual mean temperature on human conditions ... national IQ is correlated also with many other variables ... and concludes that the racial identity of the population is the major factor. etc.

For a professional review see here

For a less non-quantitative view of human history than Greg Clark’s see the new book Understanding Human History by Michael Hart.

To quote "The central hypothesis of this book is that genetic differences between human groups (in particular, differences in average native intelligence) have been an important factor in human history."

For a thorough and enlightening review of Hart’s book and this area in general see Steve Sailer’s, here

kublai said...

I would be interested to know how Clark goes from this, "Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men."

to this speculation, "To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced."

To this statement, "Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today."

Bert Rustle said...

Cramerj 5:14 AM wrote The excess males born could be gay And the breeding lesbians laid back and thought of England or their lesbian lover? Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles has many amusing yet empirically based discussions, including the evolutionary benefits of homosexuality.

johnm 9:25 AM wrote Yet those men who sailed off were motivated in part, by the impossible odds of getting a mate. I have forgotten where I recently read that there was a huge surplus of males in Spain due to economic growth around the time they set sail to explore/rape/pillage/civilise/industrialise
/educate/evangelise/rob the world.

Maybe they left a “down payment” with available wenches before they set sail and the “Spanish Inquisition” was employed to determine paternity upon return.

Rosemary 9:44 AM wrote keep your head down and you'll reproduce Which species manages that?

P. G. Foor said...

It's a commonplace that women lean more left than men, on the whole, in any given culture.

Part of the whole leftoid complex of beliefs is the notion that when people want to kill you, it's better to give them what they want than to fight back.

The absence of the bones of young women at that Crow Creek site may explain the above. "Lick their boots and they'll let you live" works better for women than for men, for obvious reasons (and throughout most of history, the conquerors wouldn't have even treated them all that much worse).

Feminized left-wing men don't quite understand what the real theme is here.

JohnM said...

It's a commonplace that women lean more left than men, on the whole, in any given culture.

My gut instinct would be the same but it is a well known fact that the Conservatives won more female than male votes in every election after the war until Blair.

David B. Wildgoose said...

Interesting Post. You may also enjoy David Landes book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" which also looks into why the Industrial Revolution happened here, and not elsewhere.

Needless to say, he also backs culture, The Rule of Law, Property Rights, levels of trust within society, etc.

James G. said...

johnm,
Regarding female voting, I'm not so sure what a similar British study would do, but in the US it was determined that single women are more likely to vote Democrat, married women more likely to vote Republican.

Could it be that prior to the Blair years, most women of voting age were married, and therefore tended to be more conservative in outlook?

P. G. Foor said...

johnm - Wow, I didn't know that. In the US IIRC women lean Democratic, relative to men. But I don't think that ever goes much beyond a few percent, of course. Hm. My point may in fact be facile bullshit. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Yes its because of culture, but you talk as if culture is totally unconnected to genetics which ofcourse is absolutely not correct.

To see an example of biological behavioural differences, just look at dogs.

Border Collie - "They are regarded as the most intelligent dog breed. Though known to be reserved with strangers, these dogs can also be protective of a human family member and affectionate to those they know."

Newfoundland - "They are known for their sweet dispositions, loyalty, and natural water rescue tendencies."

Pitbull - "Banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act" , which isn't to say they are all dangerous but they have a much greater tendency than other dogs.

-
I suspect the answer to the 40% vs 80% is much more simple.
Throughout history men have gone out to rape and pillage in order to get more sex, a lot of them would have got killed by the defending tribe before reaching their aim. And an attack gone wrong could have left their home tribe vulnerable to ending up on the receiving end..