Bryan Caplan  

Best Advice I've Heard in Months

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Well, it doesn't apply to me, but it's still great advice:

One piece of advice for young women. Do a whole lot of planning early on. Be as strategic about your personal life as you are about your career. And find an occupation where you can bend the rules. Then, work hard enough to deserve having those rules bent for you. (Sylvia Hewlett, Creating a Life)
Alternately, you could spend hours every day complaining, and see where that gets you...


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
larry writes:

You are indeed a brave guy to have written the bit about spending hours a day complaining. Quite a few women will absolutely hate that. I'll be eagerly checking the comments to see the venomous replies.

Michael Sullivan writes:

how does this advice not apply to you? I guess because you've already made those decisions for better or for worse.

But while it is addressed to young women, I'd say it applies equally well to young men as to young women.

If anything, in my experience, women are somewhat better at making decisions that are strategic about their personal life and men need this advice more.

FC writes:

Where does it get you? A column in a major international periodical or a professorship at a at an Ivy League university, apparently.

GU writes:

Larry,

Your comment suggests that women read this blog--a very big assumption!

RL writes:

"Alternately, you could spend hours every day complaining, and see where that gets you..."

Oh...you know my ex-wife?

aal writes:

I guess there aren't many women reading this blog...although, ironically, the above seems to show we don't need them to hear complaining :)

Hi, GU and aal, larry and maybe a few others.

We have stats on a few standard hit count and voluntarily offered variables on the readers of the blog and Econlib generally, but only anecdotal evidence on gender. Based on comment responses, email, and my personal experience (noted below), I suggest that in fact several thousand women daily do read this blog.

Just as for men, only women who are interested in economics read it. Just as for men, it's only a subset of those with an interest in economics who read it.

Since the proportion of women with an interest in economics is small, that does result in what looks like a small number of women who read the blog.

But based on our general statistics, that's still several thousand women daily.

You're not going to hear any complaints or venom about the post from those women any more than you'd hear venom or gripes from men. Those women who read EconLog get the economic point just as well as the men and would see no reason to take personal offense to the objective economic point Bryan and Sylvia Hewlett make--that young people, and perhaps young women more than young men, might tend to fall back on complaining and coming up with excuses rather than just getting down to brass tacks and figuring out what will work for their own futures. (In economic lingo, sunk costs are sunk.)

A few side notes. One is that women submit public comments in technical arenas like economics less frequently than men, so raw estimates of the number of women who read EconLog based on the number who comment are going to be too low.

Another is that in my personal experience, educated women have even less interest in discussions of male-female issues in their own professional field than men. It's old and tiresome to think of everything as if it's a gender attack. And it's not professionally interesting unless gender issues are your exact field. Let anyone with any actual economic points and expertise have their discussion at the intellectual level it warrants. And let the non-expert guys work through their own fears and biases in their own space. An economics blog is not a yahoo or myspace social forum. Men are not the only ones who cotton to that.

George writes:

Interesting to see you suddenly have faith in long-term economic planning, Bryan.

I think the point should be more to face up to realities and tradeoffs early (before hitting 25).

Karen writes:

And speaking of women in economics, there's a link to Diane Coyle speaking on EconTalk just to the right...

My working hypothesis (at 23) is that among all types of assets -- interpersonal, professional, and material -- some will appreciate over time, and many will quickly depreciate.

Telling those two apart in the moment can be very challenging. Not only are risks opaque, but the "returns" vary in form -- memories themselves are highly valuable -- and having stories to tell is a socially important asset (perhaps young people feel this most acutely!).


Just off the top of my head, it seems that young men have a greater inclination towards fast-depreciating assets; see one-night stands and new gadgets. They'll be actively investing their time and money, all right, but they're left with little to show for it.

Young women, on the other hand, may well have more trouble letting go of sunk costs. Dagny Taggart became my heroine in college because I felt surrounded by girls who bonded with each other over problems they had no apparent intention of solving (i.e. appearance/weight, bad relationships, boredom). They waste time and incur huge opportunity costs by foregoing investment, but low standards are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conclusion:

Hewlett's advice is sound for both men and women. Bryan's sarcastic comment might actually reflect the way women are slightly more likely to deal with their problems.

The equivalent for young men might be "Alternately, you could play computer games for hours and binge drink every weekend, and see where that gets you..."

Laura writes:

I'm a woman (a young one, actually) and I read econlog daily (MR and some other econ blogs as well). I think this is good advice--but it applies equally to young men and young women.

Kat writes:

Lauren -- thank you; well said.

GEM writes:
Alternately, you could spend hours every day complaining, and see where that gets you...

This is a textbook example of the false alternative.

There are innumerable different paths other than the ones presented by Hewlett and Caplan. You could decide that serendipity is a necessary ingredient to a good life. You could develop a deep and abiding religious fate and pray to God for advice. You could become an inveterate trend-watcher and do whatever is most popular at the moment.

Caplan's reductivism leads him to make these sorts of errors frequently.

meep writes:

Dangit, she's given away the game.

And yes, this is good advice for men, too, though what they want the rules bent for may be something different.

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