As a student, I meet new people almost every day; at work, at the gym, at student associations, and of course during our crazy nights out. Although we don’t consider it the most thrilling subject to talk about, the typical first question when you meet someone new is what he or she is studying. Kind of a required item before you can start the rest of your conversation. Knowing that the question is coming no matter what, I always try to be the first to ask it. Not so much because I want to claim the “original” study subject or because I want to come across as the intellectual person, but merely I try to postpone the inevitable. After an extensive talk about what the other person is studying, I can’t avoid the question in return. Not mentally ready for the reaction of people to my answer, I use another procrastinating trick. Instead of just saying what I am studying, I answer with the sentence: ‘What do you think I am studying?’.
Most people answer this without a doubt ‘something creative’ or ‘something social’. With a knot in my stomach, I am trying to think of the most creative or enthusiastic way to tell what I am studying. I can assure you, it’s not easy. But then the moment is there, with my broadest smile I say: “That’s right; I am studying Economics and Business”. First, people are a little confused and ask questions like “Are you doing two studies?” or just say “What?” not sure if they heard it well. But this confusion is transforming quite fast into a state of shock. A shock related to the fact that someone like me is able to do such a boring study like economics.
It doesn’t make it any better when I add that I am doing a specialization in finance: “How could such a sweet girl like you, with freckles and flower dresses, have a future in the most stingy part of society?”. After my defensive talk, I sort of succeed in convincing people that I would definitely fit into the banking industry. ‘Sort of’ was referring to the fact that I have to make a promise I will only work for a ‘conscious’ bank like Triodos, ASN or SNS.
Besides negative reactions about studying Economics, I sometimes get handy tips on how to say what I am studying; or rather just lie about what I am studying. The best tip was from a guy who said; “If you are really really into a person, just don’t tell him you are studying economics!”. Economics is way too manly, as a woman you have to study psychology or sociology of course. Conveniently ignoring the fact that nowadays the percentage of female Economics students is over 40%.
But what is the reason why the study of Economics has this stereotypical image of boredom, nastiness and masculinity? At the moment, I think we live in a society, where a lot of people have a strong disgust towards rationality. There is an increasing tendency that we should act more from our emotional state and oppose ‘economism’, as Jesse Klaver does (Dutch politician, see also article by Pieter Huijnk). I can imagine, thinking and acting out of emotions is way easier than doing this based on factual data. But making choices by rational thinking, which is preeminently how economists think, is nowadays seen as boring and inhuman. As a beginning economist, I have to face the fact that a lot of people will see me as a money-catching monster and will hate me because of my way of acting or solving problems out of rational thinking. Especially I will have to get used to these negative reactions, and find a way to deal with it. Economics is called the dismal science already since the 19th century, and as long as scarcity will exist, economists will be the persons who will have to come with the bad news. For this reason one thing is certain; the image of economics will not change very soon.