91 percent female

Maybe this explains the Great Resignation? Or part of it, anyway? Also, 7 other things worth your time.

I set out today to write about a mystery in psychology, only to realize there might be a clue toward solving an even bigger mystery.

But let’s back up: Something odd happened recently to an entire community of graduate psychology researchers, who suddenly noticed that women, but not men, were willing to participate in their online studies.

A psychology student from Cornell University named Sebastian Deri was the first to post about the situation on social media.

During the summer, he ran an online survey using one of the widely used industry platforms to get participants (more on these in a moment). About 300 people took his survey about “social comparisons and money,” but the demographics were heavily skewed toward women: 91 percent female, 7 percent male.

“Don't think I've miscoded anything, and no unusual survey restrictions,” he wrote. “How does that happen?”

Then, a Yale University graduate student reported a similar gender-skewed result. This time? A 60-person survey yielded results from 58 women and 2 men.

Then, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, Dylan Wiwad, reported something similar.

In July, he’d run a study online that attracted 44 percent female survey-takers. But then, he wrote on Twitter: “Ran a replication/extension 2 days ago and [it’s] 81% female. This is bizarre.”

The common denominator among these surveys—and many others like them, as things turned out—was that the researchers were using a platform called Prolific, which lets ordinary people take survey questions and participate as subjects in research projects.

As Rafi Letzter wrote on The Verge:

Though not particularly well known, Prolific is part of a small collection of online tools that have transformed the way corporations and scientists study the way people think and act. The first and largest of these research platforms is Amazon-owned Mechanical Turk, which was released in 2005 as a general-purpose platform for crowdsourcing work on repetitive tasks.

Soon after it was released, behavioral scientists realized its potential value for their research, and it quickly revolutionized several research fields.

OK, let’s solve the mystery. It was researchers at Stanford University who figured out what had happened.

Three words: “viral TikTok video.”

Meet Sarah Frank, Floridian, self-described “teen author,” and freshman student at Brown University. Like everyone under 25 or so (it seems), she has a fairly prolific TikTok account, and over the summer, she had some of her biggest hits, as she started a series of videos on side hustles.

Side hustle number 1? You guessed it: signing up for Prolific and getting paid to take surveys.

“This first one, I have been doing for a while and makes me about $15 a day, which is pretty good and it definitely adds up,” she said, adding later in the video: “No, this isn’t sponsored. I just love Prolific.”

Indeed, more than 4.2 million people have now watched the video (link), and sure enough: Frank’s following is mainly Generation Z, female, and eager to make a few extra bucks.

Prolific told The Verge that the video ultimately upset about 4,600 scientific studies, and Frank got some nasty comments and emails as a result, since this is 2021 and everyone now apparently thinks that’s appropriate.

But let’s go to the other mystery. It has to do with the Great Resignation and those 4 million people per month who keep quitting their jobs, which we wrote and commented about here 10 days ago.

If you ask the Department of Labor, they’ll tell you that they’re doing so with nothing else lined up. But honestly, that makes zero sense to me.

And it makes me wonder: What percentage of people quit jobs (especially lower-wage jobs), because they figure they might as well try turning side-hustles into a full-time income?

You don’t even have to think that side-hustle income could replace a McJob. You just have to imagine that other people might be willing to believe it enough to take a chance.

For that matter, how many are learning about them from people like Frank?

She’s just one person, but she has about a dozen other side hustle videos covering things like how to sell old study guides on a site called StudyPool.com, and even donating plasma.

Of course, that doesn’t even account for the reach of the gig economy—everything from driving for DoorDash or Uber to online tutoring platforms.

I don’t have data, but very often the simplest explanation for big changes is the obvious one.

And in this case—maybe, at least to some degree—there’s a powerful driving force that the people doing the explaining (aka the Department of Labor) just don’t know to look for.

Call for comments: First, what do you think? Also, Kate (who is on medical leave but is doing well; I’ll let her tell her own story when she gets back) keeps telling me I need to get on TikTok. Do I have any readers who have good accounts, or good advice?

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7 other things worth your time

Thanks for reading, as always. Photo: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.