Big, rich countries tend to do well in international sport. But more than that: Germany’s female footballers have learned from Germany’s men. They benefit from what academics call “peer effects”: they have caught the habits of people near them.
Countries in football generally learn through peer effects. Especially in western Europe, where nations are close and borders are quite open, the Italians, French, Germans and Dutch have been copying each others’ styles for decades. That has helped this relatively small region, with just 5% of the world’s population, win so many football World Cups.
Lately, female footballers have been learning from the more experienced men. Silvia Neid, the German women’s coach, watches men’s football at least as often as women’s. “To find new ideas or developments, you have to look around, and sometimes I find something interesting in the men’s game,” she told a German newspaper. However, she added: “The 4-2-3-1 system, which brought the men such success in the 2010 World Cup, has been played by the German women since 2001.” Perhaps the peer effects are starting to flow from women’s to men’s football, too.
But certainly, the success of German women shows the power of peer effects. These effects work in countless area in life. For instance, if you room with a good student at university, your own academic results will probably improve. And peer effects are especially powerful in personal finance. As savers and consumers, we catch the habits of our peers. An eZonomics video on peer pressure explains that if your neighbour buys an expensive car, you are more likely to get one too.
The trick is then to learn from peers with good financial habits. That doesn’t necessarily mean copying multimillionaires glimpsed on TV. By studying friends and relatives who manage their money cleverly and rarely seem to run out, you will probably do better than by going on shopping trips with spendthrift pals.
Sports and economics author