Gender Discrimination

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Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 83 (2012) 59–65

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Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
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Gender differences in risk attitudes: Field experiments on the matrilineal Mosuo and the patriarchal Yi Binglin Gong a,∗ , Chun-Lei Yang b,1
a b

School of Management, University of Fudan, Shanghai 200433, China Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences (RCHSS), Academia Sinica, Taipei 115, Taiwan

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
We conduct experiments on two different risk tasks with subjects from two neighboring ethnic groups, the matrilineal Mosuo and the patriarchal Yi in China. Women are more risk averse than men at both tasks within both ethnic groups. However, the gender gap is smaller in the Mosuo. Regressions show that socio-economic factors such as family size, family head, education, age, and income also have significant effects on subject’s risk choices. © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Available online 22 June 2011

JEL classification: C93 D81 J15 J16 Keywords: Risk attitude Gender difference Matrilineal society Patriarchal society Field experiment

1. Introduction Do men and women systematically behave differently in social and economic decision making? Stylized facts from evidence gained in modern cultures paint a general picture of women as the more risk-averse, more socially oriented, more selfless, and less competitively inclined gender.2 There also has been considerable debate on whether these gender differences are attributable to nature or nurture, or some combination of both. In other words, are the differences primarily attributable to the natural differences in genes between the sexes? As an alternative hypothesis, is it sensible to argue that gender differences are culture specific and determined by the different social and economic functions men and women fill in a society?3 However, modern societies may not display enough variations in the relative role differences between men and women to solve this debate convincingly, in spite of otherwise huge differences in cultural and political characteristics and economic conditions. Against this background, Gneezy et al. (2009) find that the gender difference in competitive inclination is reversed in a matrilineal society, the Khasi in India, compared to the Maasai in Tanzania, a traditional patriarchal society. Subjects in their study were given a choice to either partake in a ball-throwing game without competition, with 10 attempts and each basket scored yielding one dollar, or to compete with another anonymous person from the same village playing the same

∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 21 55664201. E-mail addresses: (B. Gong), (C.-L. Yang). 1 Tel.: +886 2 2789 8161; fax: +886 2 2785 4160. 2 See Croson and Gneezy (2009) and Eckel and Grossman (2008) for thorough surveys from an experimental economist’s viewpoint. 3 Gneezy et al. (2009), p. 1644ff, has an excellent discussion on this nature-nurture debate, in association with the discussion of their data. 0167-2681/$ – see front matter © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.06.010


B. Gong, C.-L. Yang / Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 83 (2012) 59–65

game, which yields three dollars for each scored basket in a win and no money at all in a loss. While men are more inclined to compete in Maasai like in most other modern patriarchal Western societies, Khasi women are more competitively inclined than men and are even weakly more so than Maasai men. Recently, Gong et al. (2010) have also found a reversed gender difference in the dictator decision in the Mosuo in China, one of the few remaining matrilineal and matrilocal societies in the world. Mosuo men exhibited more selfless behavior by giving more than twice the amount Mosuo women do to unknown others. All these suggest...
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