The post begins with Becker and then puts up the famous figure showing that trained economists are by far the highest percentage (twice as likely as any other discipline) that give NOTHING to charity - not a sausage.
Emmanual then uses an odd little example using Birmingham students to come to a similar conclusion. This made me laugh but I shall of course investigate further.
I bring this up for a natural experiment has just been conducted on the topic here at the University of Birmingham. Recently, the British Higher Education Academy (HEA) solicited survey responses from postgraduate research students about the quality of their postgraduate learning experiences. I filled out the form sometime ago as I will soon be eligible to become a member of the HEA and thought nothing more about it until I received another e-mail message about the survey. Apparently, the University was rather unhappy with the response rates from the survey and asked the various departments to improve the tally. (Only 15.9% of all postgraduate research students at Birmingham replied.)
As with the Frank et al. (1993) study, the results are instructive as they demonstrate the same phenomenon of homo economicus at play. Here is a brief rundown of the response rates from some of the departments along with some speculative commentary about why the response rates were such. You can view the entire file as well:
European Research Institute: 13/49 or 26.5% - Europeans are still quite civic-minded.
Electrical Engineering: 28/114 or 24.6% - I haven't the slightest clue what to say about this.
Chemical Engineering: 31/140 or 22.1% - Ditto.
Political Science: 11/66 or 18.0% - We lament declining voter turnout, but we're pretty apathetic ourselves.
Sociology: 4/42 or 9.5% - This survey is a bourgeois plot to further undermine our well-being.
Business School: 8/88 or 9.1% - How the !%^& will filling this survey help us earn money?
American and Canadian Studies: 1/39 or 2.6% - Studying American behaviour requires displaying similar kinds of apathy.
Theology and Religion: 3/287 or 3.0% - Earthly nonsense isn't to be bothered with.
...and dead last is [drum roll, please]...
Economics: 0/62 or 0.00% - There's nothing in it for me, bub.
The fact that not a SINGLE economics postgrad out of 62 bothered to fill the form in is rather sad. However, Emmanual would do well to check a couple of things:
1. Did our students actually get the original email? It may have required a member of staff to forward it which could be where the problem lies. How was the request passed to the students and if it did not come through the department why not?
2. Of the 62 students the nationality breakdown is probably fairly different from that of other departments. Should this matter?
3. Perhaps our 62 students are working too hard and are too ambitious to have the time to fill in forms.
4. The learning experience for our psotgrads might be so good that they simply have nothing negative to say about quality.
However, having said that, the result still does not surprise me.