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Gender Differences in Risk Behaviour: Does Nurture Matter?

  • Booth, Alison L
  • Nolen, Patrick

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.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7198.

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Date of creation: Mar 2009
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7198
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  1. Muriel Niederle & Alexandra H. Yestrumskas, 2008. "Gender Differences in Seeking Challenges: The Role of Institutions," NBER Working Papers 13922, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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