How Social Sciences becoming increasingly quantitative in the digital world

New Delhi August 21 dmanewsdesk: Confused about pursuing social sciences? Researcher Mayank Gupta explains why the subject is gaining importance

It is that time of the year, when results are announced and students look for suitable courses to seek admissions. This is the right time to understand a thing or two about the field of Social Sciences. The curriculum and nature of social sciences is not the same as it was perceived back in the 90s. It has become increasingly quantitative.

Emergence of subfields

Social sciences is now divided into several subfields including economics, psychology, political science, sociology which are highly quantitative. To list a few we have econometrics (in field of economics), political methodology (in the field of political science), psychometrics (extensionof psychology), sociometric (in the field of sociology), cliometrics (in the field of history), stylometrics (in the field of linguistics). These subfields are gaining immense popularity in social sciences as we have entered the age of data.

Not many people are aware that even tech firms are hiring economists. Gone are days when economists were just restricted to academia or government sector or worked with the stock market. Today we have a new breed of economists known as tech economist. We have heard several times – Data Sciences is the sexiest job in the 21 century. The one who said it was Hal Varian who is currently Google’s chief economist.

In 2019, as per a Harvard Business Review, Amazon has hired more than 150 economists. This was even higher than the Federal Reserve (the central bank of the USA) which is considered as the largest employer for economists in the USA. Economists have begun to play an increasingly bigger role in the technology sector. Various other tech firms such as Facebook, eBay, and Microsoft along with Airbnb and Uber have large teams of Ph.D. economists. While many other tech firms have small groups of economists. Besides this, there is an increasingly popular field of behavioral economics that teaches about analyzing consumer behavior, and economic data to design more effective economic policies.

Inroads of AI,ML
Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence getting increasingly popular they have found their roadways in social sciences as well. Consider the case of econometrics and machine learning. Econometrics is about understanding causal relationships (whether X causes Y or vice-versa) while machine learning is about prediction algorithms. Firms are not always interested in predictions but sometimes they also want to understand the causal nature (such as does showing ads during IPL increases revenue of the firm).

New inches in Economics
In the current scenario of COVID-19 pandemic, another subfield of economics that has gained prominence is health economics. It helps us understand the quality of health care in a country or a region. It helps to evaluate the economic impact of vaccination which is critical for decision-makers. Based on it, they can allocate limited resources optimally and prioritizing interventions in the health sector.

Then within economics, there are subfields such as urban economics, transport economics which have gained limelight in recent years. Urban economics uses economics tools to analyze urban issues such as crime, education, public transit, housing, demography, and local government finance. With the rapid transition of town to cities & increasing migration from rural to urban areas, there is a huge demand for people in Urban economics. In transport economics, you study the movement of people and goods over space and time. The aim is to work out the best ways of allocating resources so that the supply of transport services most effectively meets the demand.

With growing concerns about climate change and sustainability, we have environmental economics. All in all, Social Sciences have become omnipresent. In a nutshell, they help us to understand how to allocate limited resources optimally. Robert Solow, former professor at MIT & a Nobel laureate in Economics once said- “Little boys don’t grow up wanting to be economists, they have to learn about it later in life.”

(The author is a Research Fellow working in the area of Econometrics & Statistics at Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy, University of Mumbai)

Source: Times of India