Christiaan Huygens

Prijswinnaar 2015: dr. Thomas Buser

Economische Wetenschappen

Dr. Thomas Buser (Basel, 1980) promoveerde op 4 september 2012 op het proefschrift ‘Essays in Behavourial Economics’. Promotores waren Hessel Oosterbeek en Erik Plug. Buser houdt een MPhil in Economics van het Tinbergen Instituut en een MSc in Economics van de University of Warwick. Buser werkt als assistent-professor aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam en is tevens als research fellow verbonden aan het Tinbergen Instituut.

Dr. Thomas Buser over zijn dissertatie:

The first three chapters of my thesis ask whether economic preferences are partially determined by biological factors. The fourth chapter explores whether one such preference, willingness to compete with others, has the potential to explain individual and gender differences in academic career choices. In my current research, I continue to explore the potential of individual differences in willingness to compete (and differences in how people react to competitive situations) to explain individual and gender differences in career outcomes. Most of time, economists take preferences as given. That is, economic theory and applied economics explore the consequences of, for example, being more or less willing to take risks but rarely ask why some people might be more risk loving than others. I use economic experiments, whereby participants earn real money according to their choices, to look into the origins of a number of economic preferences which have been studied extensively over recent years: willingness to compete, willingness to trust others, willingness to cooperate with others, reciprocity, and altruism. Might these preferences be partially determined by biological factors? My research strategy is to use observable external markers for underlying biological differences such as menstrual cycle information (which is an indicator for hormone fluctuations), the relative length of the index and ring fingers (which is an indicator of prenatal testosterone exposure), or handedness (which is an indicator for neurological differences). In many cases I find strong correlations. For example, for women willingness to compete is much lower during the part of the menstrual cycle when the hormone progesterone is most active compared to rest of the cycle, and people who were more exposed to testosterone in utero are less trusting, less altruistic, and less willing to cooperate. In the fourth chapter, I explore whether individual differences in willingness to compete can predict the academic career choices of Dutch high school (VWO) students. This is interesting because experiments have shown that women are significantly less competitive than men, a difference which is often seen as a potential explanation for gender differences in career choices. We measure willingness to compete through an experiment and link it to the students’ choice of academic track (“profielkeuze”). We find that competitive students are more likely to pick a more prestigious and math-heavy track. Most importantly, gender differences in competitiveness can explain a significant part of differences in track choices between boys and girls, in particular why fewer girls pick math-heavy tracks. Most of my current research is concerned with the causes and consequences of individual differences in willingness to compete and to seek challenges. How do people’s confidence and willingness to compete react to failure and success? Are women more affected by failure than men? Can somebody’s degree of competitiveness predict his choice of professional career? I believe that answering these questions will help us better understand how individuals choose their academic and professional careers and why gender differences in career choices and labour market outcomes are so persistent.