Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feminist critiques of science journalism actually learns me some science!

There are two studies kicking around the feminist blag-o-web that both tie into the same phenomemon: the idea of trading favors or gifts for sex.

I actually saw the latest study first c/o Razib: Krueger, Daniel J. Male Financial Consumption is Associated with Higher Mating Intentions and Mating Success. Evolutionary Psychology, 2008. 6(4): 603-612.

The results were taken from a public health telephone survey which was set up for a completely different purpose. (This comes with positive and negatives; it effectively acts as an extra layer of blinding, but you also might not get the depth of information that you could otherwise.)

Participants were asked three questions about finances: "I always live within my income range; Each income period, I set aside at least ten percent for savings; I pay off my entire credit card bill each month". They were also asked three questions about sexual habits: "With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse within the past five years; How many sexual partners would you like to have in the next five years; In the past 12 months, how many different partners have you had sex with on one and only one occasion."

The main result is in the title: male participants who had high levels of "financial consumption" (as assayed by those three questions) also reported high numbers of one-night stands and the like (as assayed by those other three questions).

I looked the entire paper over and to be honest the tables are a little obtuse for me at the moment. As I mentioned on Gene Expression, the biggest issue that stands out at me is that this was a telephone survey, and maybe there was a bias due to self-reporting; maybe high-spending men are just more likely to report high values for one-night stands and higher desire for future sexual partners.

However, as Razib did point out, this fits very well into certain cultural narratives. The blog Yes Means Yes has an awesome feminist analysis of this kind of "gold-throwing" behavior in men.

Then I was skimming The Curvature and noticed this shining beacon of science-journalism criticism. Seriously, the article that Cara cites is just about the most sexist subtext I've seen in text. (I know, shows just how little mainstream news I read, eh?) However, there's no reason to think that the science itself is necessarily bad.

I'll quote the one non-skeezy paragraph from the piece:
A recent study of 475 University of Michigan undergraduates ages 17 to 26 found that 27 percent of the men and 14 percent of the women who weren't in a committed relationship had offered someone favors or gifts -- help prepping for a test, laundry washing, tickets to a college football game -- in exchange for sex. On the flip side, 5 percent of the men surveyed and 9 percent of the women said they'd attempted to trade sex for such freebies.
I like what the commenters had to say about this:

jfpbookworm said:

Okay, the way I understand those statistics:

27% of men offer goods in exchange for sex, and 9% of women take them up on it.

14% of women offer goods in exchange for sex, and 5% of men take them up on it.

Sounds to me like the ratio is about the same (1 in 3, assuming no skew in which people get asked, which there may well be), and the only difference is who’s socialized to be the “buyer.”

Lee said:

If they wanted to write about choosing “a partner who provides more resources — wealth, shelter, home repairs”, how come they didn’t mention McCain?

In other news, have I told you guys how much I appreciate the feminist view of science? (A.k.a: Look for the bias, stupid!)

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