DP7198 Gender Differences in Risk Behaviour: Does Nurture Matter?

Author(s): Alison L Booth, Patrick Nolen
Publication Date: March 2009
Keyword(s): coeducation, controlled experiment, gender, identity, risk attitudes, risk aversion, single-sex schooling
JEL(s): C9, C91, C92, J16
Programme Areas: Labour Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=7198

Women and men may differ in their propensity to choose a risky outcome because of innate preferences or because pressure to conform to gender-stereotypes encourages girls and boys to modify their innate preferences. Single-sex environments are likely to modify students' risk-taking preferences in economically important ways. To test this, we designed a controlled experiment in which subjects were given an opportunity to choose a risky outcome - a real-stakes gamble with a higher expected monetary value than the alternative outcome with a certain payoff - and in which the sensitivity of observed risk choices to environmental factors could be explored. The results of our real-stakes gamble show that gender differences in preferences for risk-taking are indeed sensitive to whether the girl attends a single-sex or coed school. Girls from single-sex schools are as likely to choose the real-stakes gamble as much as boys from either coed or single sex schools, and more likely than coed girls. Moreover, gender differences in preferences for risk-taking are sensitive to the gender mix of the experimental group, with girls being more likely to choose risky outcomes when assigned to all-girl groups. This suggests that observed gender differences in behaviour under uncertainty found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.