## Where do all the smart girls go?

This question had initially popped up in my head about a year back when I was in the arranged scissors market and was getting frustrated about not meeting any smart girls. This was around the time when I had to indicate to some shady “marriage exchange” about my preferences in terms of the girl’s education and I gave some serious thought to it, but for some reason ended up not blogging about it.

I don’t want to get into debates regarding “better” colleges here so let’s just simplify that discussion and rank colleges by demand for admission for undergraduate courses. Again it is not going to be a precise ordering since different colleges have different admission processes but I’m sure that with some approximation and adjustment such an ordering is possible. Yeah this is also not a precise ordering butI supose this is the best we can get. As Prof Ramnath Narayanswamy says, “reality doesn’t matter. Perception does”.

Now make a table with three columns. In the first column write down the above prepared list in order, with the number one college on top. In the second column, write down the average number of boys each college typically admits per year, and in the third column the average number of girls admitted by the college.

Next, add two more columns to the table. In the fourth, make a “cumulative total” of the second column and in the fifth a “cumulative total” of the third column. So if I look at the nth row of the 4th column, I know the average number of boys admitted in a typical year by colleges ranked 1 to n. Similarly for girls and the fifth column.

My hypothesis is that at least for the first 100 rows, the number in the 4th column is at least twice as much as the number in the 5th column. Actually, I would go a step further and say that the above is true for the first 500 rows. If you look at the papers the day after CBSE announces its board exam results, you will see that girls would’ve done as well on average, if not better, than boys. So where do all the smart girls go?

One thing might be that there might be certain courses which girls show a marked preference for but most boys avoid because of which demand goes down because of which they go down in the rankings. Another could be that girls in general have preferences so niche that the best colleges in these niches don’t show that kind of admission demand. On the other hand, boys seem more homogeneous (everyone wants to do engineering) because of which demand for the best engineering colleges is really high.

There is a school of thought that a large number of girls are interested in the humanities which few boys show a liking for so a lot of smart girls are to be found in the better humanities colleges. But then, what happens in cities such as Bangalore or Madras which simply don’t have the same kind of humanities colleges as do cities such as Delhi and Bombay? Do girls who want to do humanities in these cities still go to the not-so-great humanities colleges rather than choosing better (in general) colleges in other disciplines?

Another explanation is girls only colleges where naturally demand is low since half the population can’t apply. But then I would expect the better of these to have enough demand that they rank fairly high. I’m again not satisfied by this explanation.

So the question remains. Where do all the smart girls go? Don’t tell me some of them actually choose not to go to college or something!

## Intellectual Property

A blog post earlier this month on Econlog finished off with a very strong quote by Friedrich Hayek:

One of the forms of private property that people cherish most is their ideas. If you convince them that their ideas are wrong, you have caused them to suffer a capital loss.

I ended up liking it so much that I added it to my work email signature. Thinking about it further, why is it that some people are more open to debate than others? Why do some people admit to their mistakes easily while others are dogmatic about them? Why do some people simply refuse to discuss their ideas with other people? I think Hayek’s observation offers a clue.

Let us consider two people – Mr. Brown and Mr. Green. Mr. Brown believes in diversification, and his investments are spread across several financial instruments, belonging to different categories, with a relatively small amount of money in each of them. For purposes of this analogy, let us assume that no two instruments in his portfolio are strongly correlated with each other (what is strong correlation? I don’t know. I can’t put a number on it. But I suppose you get the drift)

Mr. Green on the other hand has chosen a few instruments and has put a large amount of money on each of them. It is just to do with his investment philosophy, which we shall not go into, as this is just an analogy.

Let us suppose that both Mr. Brown and Mr. Green held Satyam stock on 6th January 2009. They were both invested in Satyam according to their respective philosophies – and the weightage of Satyam in their respective portfolios was also in line with their philosophies. The next day, 7th of January, the Satyam fraud came out. The stock crashed to a tenth of its value. Almost went to zero. How would our friends react to this situation?

Mr. Green obviously doesn’t like it. A large part of his investments has been wiped out. He has become a significantly poorer man. For a while he will be in denial about this. He will refuse to accept that such a thing could happen to one of his chosen stocks. He will try to convince himself that this fall (a 90% fall, no less) is transient, and the stock will go back to where it once was. As days go by, he realizes that his investments have been lost for ever. He is significantly poorer.

Mr. Brown will also be disappointed by the fall – after all, he too has lost money in the fall. However, his disappointment is mitigated by the fact that the loss is small compared to his portfolio. There have been other stocks in his portfolio which have been doing well, and their performance will probably absorb the Satyam losses. Some of the stocks in his portfolio may also be fundamentally negatively correlated with Satyam, which means they will now gain. There is also the possibility that the Satyam fall has opened up some new possible areas of investment for Mr. Brown, and he might put money into them. It is much easier for Mr. Brown to accept the fall of Satyam compared to Mr. Green.

So you replace stocks by ideas, and I suppose you konw what I am gettting at. The degree of openness that people show with respect to an idea they have varies inversely with the share of this particular idea in their “idea portfolio”. The smaller the proportion of this idea, the lesser will be the “capital cost” of their losing the idea. And hence, they will be more open to debate, to discussion, to letting someone critically examine their ideas. If the proportion of this particular idea in their overall portfolio is large, there will obviously be resistancce.

A corrolary of this is that when someone possesses a small number of ideas they are more likely to be dogmatic about them (I am using the indefinitive “more likely” here because even when you have a small number of securities in your portfolio, your exposure to some of them will be really small and so you’ll be less unwilling to lose them. Though I must point out that people with small ideas portfolios become so used to madly defending the big ideas in the portfolio that they start adopting the same tactic for the smaller ideas in their portfolio and become dogmatic about them – which is irrational).

I just hope I didn’t cause you a capital loss by writing this. For me, on the other hand, this was a bonus stock.

## On Booze and Language of Thought

Last Sunday, I was having a discussion with my mother about my drinking – which has been sporadic at best and non-existent at worst. She said she had a probelm with even my sporadic ingestion of alcohol, and demanded that I completely give up drinking. I tried my best to draw it away from a religious/emotional argument, and tried to draw her into a logical argument.

My mother is a biologist by training (it is another matter that her career was in accounting) and said that she is concerned about her gene, and that given that I’m her only offspring, she naturally has incentive in my offspring, and she wants to make sure that they’ll be in good health, and live well. She also has this notion that if either of the parents drink, the children will be born dumb, and there is an increased risk of abnormality. I have no clue about these matters, and somehow managed to change the line of argument.

Then she released her brahmastra. Or what she thought was her brahmastra. Everyone she know who drank alcohol, she said, had ended up becoming a drunkard and a wifebeater. She gave examples of classmates from school, colleagues, colleagues’ husbands, relatives, etc. It was evident that she had prepared her argument well. And in each of these cases, there was no doubt that the person in question was a drunkard and a wifebeater, whose kids were most likely to end up as losers.

It is pertinent to point out here that the entire argument was happening in Kannada. In fact, I’ve never talked to either of my parents, or to any other close relatives, in any other language. I am in general fairly fluent at the language, at least at the Bangalore version which includes loads of English words. I have in general managed to hold my own in several debates and discussions at social gatherings, while talking exclusively in Kannada. I have explained to relatives complicated financial products, and how the sub-prime crisis unraveled, all in Kannada.

Getting back to the argument, the best way for me to handle my mother’s examples was to provide counterexamples. Of perfectly decent people who consumed alcohol. For statistical reasons and given the way the hopothesis had gotten framed, I would need a much larger list than my mother had produced. And in the spur of the moment, I decided that I wouldn’t do a good job at listing and I should continue with logic-based arguments. Phrases such as “selection bias” and “Bayes’ theorem” and “one-way implications” flashed across my head.

Holding up your end of the debate when you aer talking nomally, and in Kannada, is fair enough. However, when you are extremely animated, and speaking at 100 words per minute, things are a bit harder. I realized that my mother would understand none of the jargon that had flashed across my head, and I’d have to explain to her in normal language. My mouth was processing words at 100 words per minute, and suddenly my brain seemed to have gotten a bit slower. The pipeline became empty for a moment and i started stammering. And my mother started making fun of my stammering (i used to stammer a lot when I was a kid. took a lot of effort to get over it).

Coming to the crux of this essay – at this moment another thought flashed to my head. For a long time I wasn’t sure if I thought in any specific language, or if my thought was general. And even if I thought in a particular language, I wasn’t sure if I thought in Kannada or in English. I had always done well enough in both languages to keep this debate unresolved. Now there was the data point. The clinching data point. I quickly realized that had I been speaking in English, my pipeline wouldn’t have gone empty. In fact, when I was trying to explain stuff to my mom, I was doing two levels of translation – I was first translating jargon into normal English, and then translating that into Kannadal. Powerful evidence to sugggest that I think in English.

I was so kicked by this discovery that the original argument didn’t matter to me any more. I quickly promised my mother that I will never consume alcohol again, and she said “shiom”, a kid-word that means something like “ok what you’ve said is final and binding and no changing it”. So I suppose that is how things will stay. I will henceforth stop consuming alcohol. Not that I’ve been consuming much nowadays – average one drink every two months or so. It won’t be hard at all to make the transition.

PS: Interestingly, when I’m trying to speak in any Indic langauge (Hindi, Tamil, etc.) I instinctively form my thoughts in Kannada and then translate. Maybe it is because of similarities that the cost of translation from Kannada to these languages is much lower than the cost of translation from English, that it becomes profitable for me to think in Kannada, which is harder than to think in English.