Girls Are Smart, Follow International Affairs and Like Prospect
By Taylor Marvin
Recently I was playing around on Prospect’s Facebook page [shameless self-promotion: like Prospect!], and I noticed something interesting. Facebook actually does a fairly good job of providing analytical tools to page owners, and includes in its reports the gender ratio of Facebook users who ‘like’ Prospect:
Nearly two thirds of Prospect’s student-age ‘likes’ are female. This is on the surface puzzling: an interest in international affairs doesn’t seem to be a trait that would skew heavily female.
However, there are some interesting clues in the data. The overwhelming number of Facebook ‘likes’ are from 18-24 year olds in the United States. This suggests, unlike the overall readership of Prospect, that the nearly all of Prospect’s Facebook ‘likes’ are by UCSD students or recent alumni, which briefly skimming our Facebook page seems to confirm.
Does the gender demography of UCSD explain this skew? Not quite. UCSD does skew slightly female, but not nearly enough to explain the magnitude of Prospect’s male/female imbalance. Additionally, female students at UCSD average slightly higher GPAs than their male peers, possibly suggesting that female students are more likely to be intellectually curious enough to spend their free time reading an international affairs magazine. However, like UCSD’s gender imbalance this disparity is small enough to be insignificant.
However, we’re not interested in all students at UCSD — only those who might be reading Prospect. It makes sense to assume that a large portion of the UCSD students who read Prospect and ‘like’ it on Facebook are at least somewhat interested in international affairs. While not all of these internationally-minded students’ majors necessarily reflect this interest, it’s likely that a high proportion do.
With this theory in mind, I talked to Dr. Nancy Gilson, the Director of Degree Programs at UCSD’s Intentional Relations/Pacific Studies professional school, who also oversees the International Studies Program. Dr. Gilson was able to give me detailed statics about the demographic makeup of the program. This information largely corroborates the theory that Prospect’s ‘likes’ is largely due to the gender ratio of international studies students.
International studies is a growing major at UCSD:
While the International Studies program at UCSD is a fairly small percentage of the total student body, UCSD is large enough for it to plausibly account for the large majority of Prospect’s Facebook ‘likes’. Additionally, UCSD’s international studies program is fairly flexible, allowing students to concentrate in a variety of academic fields with an international outlook. However, despite having a number of choices the large majority of ISP students choose to take classes in two areas: political science and economics.
ISP students’ overwhelming favorite concentrations — political science and economics — closely mirror Prospect’s favored topics, again suggesting that a significant portion of our student readership at UCSD are International Studies majors. How related is this to Prospect’s Facebook gender imbalance? It turns out a lot:
International Studies is overwhelmingly female. Dr. Gilson attributed at least part of this striking gender imbalance to the International Studies program’s language requirement. International Studies requires at least a year of a foreign language, and UCSD’s language classes tilt heavily female. This, and International Studies students’ assumed propensity to gravitate towards an international affairs magazine in their free time, seems sufficient to explain why the majority of Prospect’s fans are 18-24 year old women.
However, there’s likely more going on here. While the average Facebook user has 130 friends, students average much more than that — they’re likely to use the site more heavily than older people, and being in school gives them exposure to potentially much larger social networks than the average user. Similarly, females are likely to have more friends and interactions on Facebook than males — something my entirely anecdotal experience supports — suggesting that they are more likely to disseminate ‘likes’ more quickly through their wider social networks. Another, entirely unscientific theory is that 18-24 year old women are more socially supportive than the male peers; that is, female friends of Prospect’s female staff members (Prospect staff skews slightly female) are more likely to ‘like’ Prospect as a show of social support than their male counterparts.
However, it’s important not to read too much into Prospect’s Facebook statistics. Prospect’s admittedly anemic 319 Facebook ‘likes’ aren’t an accurate representation of its readership, rather, they’re a representative of Prospect readers who have a Facebook and choose to take the time to click the like button, and likely non-readers who want to support their friends on Prospect’s staff. Facebook ‘likes’ are a subset of a subset, and have less analytical value than pageviews, despite their admittedly interesting demographic content. Facebook is a hugely important marketing tool, and one that Prospect has failed to fully utilize. But it isn’t everything.