Economics, however, is not science and some mandated equality might help. Science says so.
But discussing biological differences between men and women are a no-no in the progressive world of science, so one must tread lightly. Saying positive things about women being better than men is likely to defuse the more militant people who are apt to engage in knee-jerk hysteria so perhaps I will get a different response than Friend-Of-Obama and former Harvard president Larry Summers when he speculated on a physical basis of why girls do not do better at math.
Cultural or biological? Hard to say. Are women born being more likely to ask for directions if they are lost? It's hard to know when it's so ingrained in our beliefs that women will ask for directions and men will not that it's impossible to get an honest answer about whether or not women and men really will ask for directions.
But this neuroeconomics stuff just looks at results, not origin. Writing in The Guardian, Tim Adams cites a study showing that in a survey of 2.7 million investors which found in 2008-2009, men were much more likely than women to sell stocks at price lows. Men were confident they could make accurate assessments about the future based on short-term financial news. Women, the study surmises, were more likely to acknowledge when they didn't know something and lost less money than men did.
Adams interviewed John Coates, a research fellow in neuroscience and finance at Cambridge. Coates had once been a bond trader on Wall Street during the dotcom boom.
"Steroids," Coates explains, "like most chemicals in your body, display what is called an inverted U-shaped response curve." That is to say, when you have low levels of them you lack vitality, and do very poorly at mental and physical tasks. But as the levels rise you get sharper and more focused until you reach an optimum. The key thing is this, however: "If you keep winning, your testosterone level goes past that peak and sliding down the other side. You start doing stupid things. When that happens to animals, they go out in the open too much. They pick too many fights. They neglect parenting duties. And they patrol areas that are too large." In short, they behave like traders on a roll; they get cockySo women, with only 10% of the testosterone of men, might be immune to this 'Winner Effect' that sends men into the bad part of that inverted U.
But where was the data to prove it? Coates volunteered to be the first subject, since he had already been in that business. And they did studies on other traders and the results were perfect, though far too small a sample to be meaningful. One interesting aspect was that cortisol levels - the depressive stress hormone - didn't just go up when traders lost money, they also went up dramatically when traders were simply unsure about what to do. It's like that old argument in the NFL about running the ball - when you throw a pass, five things can happen and four are bad - and two out of three chemical reactions in men that occurred during high-stress trading were bad.
As you expect, male traders being told - despite their experience - that they become price insensitive chemical automatons when things get weird and that women would somehow be immune, disagree. They have a point. Opinion diversity obviously has value but endocrine diversity? Well, you have to show more data for that.
Joe Herbert, professor of neuroscience at Cambridge, said, "What is clear is that there are neurological differences between the sexes. Women, in very general terms, are less competitive, and less concerned with the status of being successful."
Maybe, he isn't saying all women but the women who are competitive will most likely disagree, which doesn't invalidate his point at all. Unfortunately, the argument about the downside to having women present at all - the uber-mensch tendency of men to 'show off for the ladies' - could also be a reason to keep them out of the military's ground-based combat arms even while it would help prevent silliness on Wall Street.
The prefrontal cortex in humans allows us to delay 'gratification' and essentially think longer term. - but it matures after the age of 30 and happens later in men than in women. So perhaps rather than instituting a gender quota, we could engage in age discrimination.