Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Students' Attitudes towards Economic Growth and Income Inequalities: Does the Field of Study Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Students' Attitudes towards Economic Growth and Income Inequalities: Does the Field of Study Matter?

Article excerpt


A basic premise of university educators is that studying has impact on students. We examine attitudes of university students towards economic growth and income inequalities. We ask what kind of association exists between different study disciplines and students' attitudes towards issues linked to the notion of the welfare state. We also examine whether such attitudes are altered during the course of one's studies. The longitudinal data used is based on internet questionnaires sent to students at Finnish universities between 2005 and 2008. Empirical results suggest that the overall response profile of economics and business students differ from those in other fields. In addition, for most disciplines, attitudes do not change considerably over the course of one's studies.

Keywords: Economic Growth Attitudes, Income Inequality Attitudes, Impacts of Higher Education

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


We often assume that academic studies can change our ways of interpreting the world. Studying can lead to new ways of understanding and thinking about events around us. At least this is what the university educators would like us to believe; exposure to the right learning contents should help students adopt and express certain favorable attitudes. At the same time, however, it is possible that students tend to choose their disciplines and areas of interest according to their already existing opinions. Either way, the students of different disciplines and fields of study are supposed to represent the organization of basic values and principles of the respective academic world. So, how accurate is this assumption?

There are economic, psychological and sociological studies pointing to the fact that students of different disciplines often have different attitudes and opinions on a variety of issues. For example, there is a relatively large body of American-based research focusing on students of economics (e.g. Brubacker, 1975; Carter & Irons, 1991; Smith, 1978). These studies are motivated by Stigler's (1959) classic notion that the professional study of economics tends to make people conservative. While this argument was not based on empirical findings, it had an impact on how economists were viewed by others, social scientists in particular (e.g. Etzioni, 1972; Kahneman et al., 1986). Stigler's argument has since been the subject of numerous studies testing whether studying economics contributes to the development of more conservative attitudes. Most empirical studies have asked if economics students have specific tendencies to think in a certain way about the provision of public goods. In particular, a set of experiments by Marwell & Ames (1981) reported that economic students were indeed more likely to become free riders compared to any other student groups. The findings have been interpreted as indicating that economist students adapt their behavior to the basic axioms of economic theory.

We have also found relevant research focusing on other fields of study. Saywer (1966), for example, measured co-cooperativeness and selfishness of university students across different disciplines. His conclusion was that the altruistic and individualistic attitudes between business and other students differed considerably. In more recent studies, this finding has been seen as an indicator that economics and business students differ from everyone else when it comes to selfinterested behavior (e.g. Frank, Gilovich & Regan, 1993; Venetoklis, 2007). Medical students, on the other hand, have been studied primarily from the angle of how their studies might develop humanitarian attitudes. In an early literature review Rezler (1974) concluded that in general we can find changes in the course of studies when examining these kinds of attitudes. Simultaneously, however, in most studies, changes were argued to result more due to student individual characteristics rather than the exposure to a specific field of study. …

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