Friday, May 11, 2007

Names (or Parents?) Make a Difference

I just read an article about a study showing that the name of a girl can be used to predict whether a girl will study math or physics after the age of 16. The study, done by David Figlio, professor of economics at the University of Florida indicated that girls with "very feminine" names, such as Isabella, Anna, and Elizabeth, are less likely to study hard sciences compared to girls with names like Grace or Alex.

Myself, I find it hard to understand how someone can estimate the "femininity" of a name but it might be just me. Even if there is such a scale though, I do not see any causality in the finding, as implied in the article. (I see predictive power, but no causality.) In my own interpretation, parents that choose "very feminine" names also try to steer their daughters towards more "feminine" careers. I cannot believe that names by themselves set a prior probability on the career path of a child. (The Freakonomics book had a similar discussion about names and success.)

Oh well, how you can lie with statistics...