Help me decide what to research.
July 23, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm in need of ideas for a year-long research topic in economics, preferably relating to feminism, technology, or both.

I'm about to embark on a sort of informal thesis, which will occupy about 1/6th of my academic time for the next year, relating to economics. Since it's a bit of a capstone project, I'd like it to involve my other main interests, feminism and the internet. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to take many classes which involve either of those interests as my program is quite standardized, but I'm eager to learn and throw myself into a passion project.

Certainly labor economics is a possibility, e.g. the wage gap, but I thought I would open the question up to the hive mind to see if there are any unanswered questions, creative viewpoints, or any other ideas which might be interesting.

A good example, which I'm already exploring, is a the research exploring the effect of online pornography on the incidence of rape. My perspective is somewhat snarky, a little bit "Freakonomics," and I just really don't want to spend a year, like, rating index funds!
posted by acidic to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The economics of female web content: How being female effects what you make and how you do business on the internet.

Your focus could be on the differences between male and female content, how much money is made, and if the option to hide your gender changes your business. Do female bloggers make more or less than male bloggers in the same field? What are the high earning web sectors and who works in them? Does being able to 'work from home' help women who find themselves balancing the bulk of the childcare and a career? Do customers pick a particular gender for creative work (ie web design) over the other, when hiring via the internet?

There's lots of questions like this I'd love to have answered.
posted by Phalene at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2008

How something related to dating web sites?
Who spends more $ (male/females) on these?
When 2 people meet, does the male buy (the drink, the meal, the movie) more or less than if the couple met by traditional means?
posted by allelopath at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2008

- Look at the marketing and sales data for different classes of computers: are women portrayed more frequently in ads for "family" or "home"-targeted machines? Do sales reflect this? How do the ad campaigns differ from those which may be advertising computers of higher quality?
- How successful are women who have enrolled in computer/technology/software training at a local community college at reaching their tech-based goals (like getting a better job)?
- Do online-only job applications make it easier or more difficult for disadvantaged women to enter the work force?
- How are older, less-technologically-fluent women coping with the demands of online banking? How responsive have banks/credit unions been in designing their websites to meet the needs of their older customers? Do older women, in general, feel that the Internet is something inaccessible to them?
posted by mdonley at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2008

Ooooh, this sounds really fascinating. Let us know what you choose! I'm interested in exactly the same topics and one of the things that seems like a pretty profound change is the amount of money "mommy bloggers" are able to pull down these days, and the economic opportunity that creates for women who are home with children. The best in breed, Dooce, supports her entire family (her husband was able to quit his job) - well, I might add - on her ad revenue. And now there are spin offs into traditional media, books and film.
posted by smallstatic at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2008

I think the differences between male and female content are pretty well staked out. If you look at who's making money, men are making money writing about technology and business strategy, and women are making money mommy blogging and making porn.

Obviously, this annoys me. But it leads me to my next point, which annoys me even more, and I think would be an interesting basis for some research towards a thesis.

The very structure of the web and technology conferences where connections are made and individuals are touched with the golden buzz wand is inherently male. If you look at the dozens of speakers at Le Web 07, I think you'll find four women. Reboot is a bit better but largely the same. TED makes me sad in it's lack of women in tech talks. Your average Barcamp rarely gets to 30% women attending, let alone speaking or presenting. SXSW is much more mixed, but... there's a reason for that, and it sort of goes to the heart of my point. More on that in a minute.

So, most of these conferences follow the same pattern. It's about soliciting proposals for talks and then someone standing on a stage and talking to an audience. Women are less likely to send in such proposals and less likely to want to be the guy up on the stage because, as studies show, we're less comfortable assigning authority to ourselves - which is exactly what this process requires.

We're much more comfortable with cooperative communication. We like panels, and so we panel at SXSW. But more than that, women have stepped outside these kinds of conferences to organise things differently, in a way that is more comfortable to the bulk of our gender. Look at Blogher. Look at the way they describe it - discussions, community, group workshops - and almost all the events are multiple women co-presenting or paneling.

I think these apparently gender based preferences have a lot of impact on women in technology. When you go to the big conferences and you rarely see yourself reflected in the people in the power positions, it's easy to get the message that you don't belong and this isn't for you. I was just a judge on a panel at yet another male dominated tech conference where I was the only woman with four middle aged white guys, and the only reason I was on it was because I was a last minute replacement for another middle aged white guy.

You get guys saying "why aren't more women coming to our conferences or speaking at them?" and I truly believe that if these conferences were organised and structured differently, the demographics would significantly change.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:06 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry. All of which is to say: I think research on organisational styles, sociolingusitics, and their effect on the visibility of women in tech would be interesting.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:13 PM on July 23, 2008, a massive peer to peer lending site/community makes its data publicly available. You could ask and answer a lot of interesting questions about women's borrowing and lending habits. You could also probably find a comparable data set to compare online and offline lending options.
posted by cushie at 1:38 PM on July 23, 2008

Technology ideas:

Optimum length of patents for maximum growth.

Was the Eolas patent a tragedy of the anti-commons?

Copyright durations balance extra incentives for content creators against increased cost for consumers. Does the "long tail" of internet distribution make producers better off, and if so does that mean copyright durations should be reduced?

Technology and women:

Anecdotally, the number of women in IT seems to be have decreased. True? Why? Is this because the media have decided that anyone who works with computers is a pathetic dork?

Women seem able to get into some scientific/technical areas, but not others. Is there a kind of threshold effect, where once a significant minority break into a field it becomes acceptable for females? If so, could organizations intervene in the process by creating small female-friendly units and then expanding them, rather than gradually diffusing women into a whole field at once?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2008

I think the differences between male and female content are pretty well staked out. If you look at who's making money, men are making money writing about technology and business strategy, and women are making money mommy blogging and making porn.

Seems to me there's no better place than the internet to produce content without explicitly mentioning your gender. I mean, look at gizmodo - it isn't exactly plastered with writers' names and biographies.

Of course, I agree that it would be nice to replace possible female technologists with real female technologists.

Anyway, I think you should look at efforts to increase womens' representation in the tech workforce and determine which efforts are effective and which aren't; the magnitudes of unintended results; etc.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:15 PM on July 23, 2008

Economics and women:

You could do a project on how (or if) the pay rate changes when a field switches over from majority female to majority male or vice versa.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:48 PM on July 23, 2008

Mike, you're sort of missing the broad point there with Gizmodo. Normative for tech blogs is, well, male. Were that not the case, then there would be no need and no market for tech blogs specifically for women. Of which there are many, because this market is not being served particularly well by your standard - ie male - tech blogs.

To put it another way, there are no (or very few) "tech blogs for men" because almost all tech blogs are already for men - or are at least perceived that way by the women who go out and start the successful tech blogs for women.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:59 PM on July 23, 2008

What about male/female representation, interaction, marketing etc in online auction sites, eg "ebay businesses"? My guess is these would be no easier/harder for a woman or man to run per se (gender obscuration for marketing/privacy purposes is a question in itself), but given that childcare, aged care and "home duties" responsibilities fall more often on women, and as a result, women are proportionately under-represented in full-time employment, my guess would be that women's economic activity (and this may or may not include buying; office internet access is free, while home internet access is unrestricted) would occur at a higher rate on Ebay etc than in the offline marketplace. Anything int hat?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:01 PM on July 23, 2008

Alternatively, consider AskMetaFilter. Whether the question/answer system constitutes "economics" is between you and your thesis advisor, but I'm sure there'd be interesting data in the types of questions, the tyes and frequency of answers, etc as analysed for gender difference.

Is a male or female questioner more likely to be advised to DTMFA? Do male or female answerers empathise with or criticize questioners more? Do male or female questioners ask more questions about technological, religious, child-related, pet-related, starting-relationship, ending-relationship ... etc?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2008

It's possible this is just me, but I'm kind of fascinated by the economics of Etsy. Pre-Etsy, were all these people eeking out an living locally? Were they working part time? Are they still working part time? Is the goal even to make a living off their crafting?

(And crafting/handmade goods are often female enterprise? Perhaps I'm reaching.)
posted by aint broke at 9:43 PM on July 23, 2008

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