Studying economics won’t make you more selfish

Does studying economics make you more selfish? Just google this (or similar) question and you will find it is a widely held concern (or prejudice?)

A paper published last month addresses the question. Their authors found little to no causal effect of studying economics on social preferences and beliefs about other people’s social preferences.

It is widely held that studying economics makes you more selsh and politically conservative. We use a difference-in-differences strategy to disentangle the causal impact of economics education from selection effects. We estimate the effect of four different intermediate microeconomics courses on students’ experimentally elicited social preferences and beliefs about others, and policy opinions. We find no discernible effect of studying economics (whatever the course content) on self-interest or beliefs about others’ self-interest. Results on policy preferences also point to little effect, except that economics may make students somewhat less opposed to highly restrictive immigration policies.

Girardi, D., Mamunuru, S.M., Halliday, S., and Bowles, S. (2021). Does Economics Make You Selfish? Economics Department Working Paper Series.

If you want to argue against markets, now you can feel more secure you won’t get infected by economics. So please, make your homework!

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Featured Image: Me You Selfish, Pixabay

2 comments

  1. Interesting post but this is the sort of article on psychology well written with sound mathematical foundation, but that cannot really get to conclussions: the sample is very small, the period where the change is supposed to take place is too short. I doubt students can change noticeable their opinions in just one year, after reading a couple of books that, after all, were a matter of study. I do not think most people believe what they study, they just learnt it for the examination.

    May be an economics student can change his mind, but only after a longer time and with some actual experience.

    • You are Pepe Jiimenez. We cannot generalize or extrapolate from such a small exercise. But it is a nice quantitative exercise (and a lot more than the usual yadda yadda in these questions).

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