Beaker Bitch-Women Who Make Money: The Mystery Explained!

The Internet is abuzz this week over a recent study that links high rates of testosterone with choosing risky financial ventures. While the study is an interesting and worthwhile examination of the hormone's role in decision making, the media coverage plays up a few juicy, but entirely inaccurate angles.

The Washington Post article linked above, for example, is pretty straightforward. It explains that scientists in Britain tested 17 male and female financial traders for their testosterone levels and then had them play a money game involving risky or safe investments. The people with high testosterone, regardless of gender, chose the riskier investments. But the article makes the mistake right off the bat of saying the study is about "male hormone testosterone." A study whose results should break down gender differences instead is framed as reinforcing them: only women who have high testosterone (which is not a male hormone. It's found in both men and women) act like men. Smaller news sources riff on the same mistake, framing finance as a career for men and viewing women who become bankers as therefore acting like men.

Science journal Nature wins the award for best coverage. They refer to the phenomena as simply "traders' testosterone"—a refreshingly ungendered term.

But whatever, the WaPo's faulty framing is small potatoes compared to this headline from The Economist: "Hormones, not sexism, explain why fewer women than men work in banks." Uh... WTF Economist? This study did not look at reasons women work in banks, it doesn't examine social norms or statistics of promotions. Extrapolating that the presence of one hormone can explain away centuries of a glass ceiling is totally unfounded and provides dangerous fodder to folks who want to believe we live in a post-sexism society.

And on the far fringe of poor reporting lies the Press Association who conjured up this bizarre headline from the study: "Risky women are 'hungry for sex.'" I'm not even going to get started on that one.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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