Do economists play well with others?

By Paul Walker 30/08/2014

The unlikely sounding answer to this question is yes. This answer comes from a paper in a recent issue of The American Economist (Vol. 59, No. 1 (Spring 2014)) on “Do Economists Play Well with Others? Experimental Evidence on the Relationship Between Economics Education and Pro Social Behavior” by Bryan C. McCannon. The abstract reads:

Does an economics education affect an individual’s behavior? It is unclear whether differences in behavior are due to the education or whether those who choose to study economics are different. This issue is addressed using experimental evidence from the Trust Game where trusting and reciprocating behaviors can be measured. First, it is shown that economics students provide greater trusting investments and reciprocate more. Accounting for the selection effect, these effects are explained by those who choose to study economics and not directly from the education being provided. Thus, economists play well with others and these social preferences are not taught in the classroom.

The upshot of the experimental research discussed in the paper is that as the number of economics courses taken increases, more trusting investment and more reciprocation occurs. Thus, students of economics create more wealth and engage in more “pro-social” behaviour. Using the surveys as an instrument to disentangle the selection effects and learning effects, the results indicate that this outcome is due to the selection effect rather than learning. The estimated impact of an additional economics course taken reduces and becomes statistically indistinguishable from zero. Thus, those who choose to study economics are, indeed, different from other students and the classrooms do not have a substantial, independent impact on behaviour. Thus, the answer posed in the title, do economists play well with others, can emphatically be answered, yes.

That is, economists are just nice!

But you all already knew that …… didn’t you.