I woke up this morning to an email from Tim Worstall, who asked me the following question: how’s your map reading?
Stumbling and Mumbling inspires his question by linking to research showing that women have poorer map-reading skills than men, and then asking
Is it the case that women economists are better at map-reading than women generally?
Caveats: Tim is right that within-group variance is likely to be higher than across-group variance here. Also, I am simply a datum in this analysis, and one datum does not a case make.
Here’s my answer: I have above-average map-reading skills, and above-averge spatial skills in general; in fact, if I recall from the last time I did anything formal about it I am at least a standard deviation above the mean. So that correlation between economist skills and map-reading skills is consistent with S&M’s hypothesis.
As a corollary hypothesis, I wonder if map-reading is more correlated with economist skills than with directional skills. I have a freakishly good sense of direction; in fact, one of my nicknames is “migratory water fowl” because I can find my way around a place having only visited it once. I have a girlfriend who is an excellent economist but has below-average directional skills, yet she is a good map reader.
I also have a sister-in-law who has superlative math skills and is extremely intelligent, but lacks map-reading skills.
So here’s my alternate hypothesis: map-reading skills are correlated with spatial and visual skills. Economists are more likely to posses these skills because of our use of both visual and mathematical tools. But it’s the visual/spatial, not the mathematical, part of the skill set that is the source of the correlation.