Smell the discrimination

3rd November, 2007

I’m a real cappuccino lover myself, but many of my female colleagues don’t seem to go for the stuff. I’d never thought too much about that until recently. I suppose I carelessly assumed that men and women have different tastes, probably as a result of different social influences. Now I know better: my female colleagues don’t go to coffee shops because they’re shabbily treated when they get there.

That’s the conclusion of the American economist Caitlin Knowles Myers. She, with her students as research assistants, staked out eight coffee shops in the Boston area and watched how long it took men and women to be served. Her conclusion: men get their coffee 20 seconds earlier than women. (There is also evidence that black people wait longer than white people, the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful. But these effects are statistically not as persuasive.)

Perhaps, says the sceptic, this is because women order froufrou drinks? Up to a point. The researchers found that men are more likely to order simpler drinks. Yet comparing fancy-drink-ordering men with fancy-drink-ordering women, the longer wait for women remained.

It is also hard to attribute the following finding to a female preference for wet-skinny-soya-machiatto with low carb marshmallows: the delays facing women were longer when the coffee shop staff was all-male, and almost vanished when the serving staff were all-female.

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