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Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities

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  • Uri Gneezy
  • Moshe Hoffman
  • John List

Abstract

Women remain significantly underrepresented in the science, engineering, and technology workforce. Some have argued that spatial ability differences, which represent the most persistent gender differences in the cognitive literature, are partly responsible for this gap. The underlying forces at work shaping the observed spatial ability differences revolve naturally around the relative roles of nature and nurture. Although these forces remain among the most hotly debated in all of the sciences, the evidence for nurture is tenuous, because it is difficult to compare gender differences among biologically similar groups with distinct nurture. In this study, we use a large-scale incentivized experiment with nearly 1,300 participants to show that the gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society. We also show that about one-third of the effect can be explained by differences in education. Given that none of our participants have experience with puzzle solving and that villagers from both societies have the same means of subsistence and shared genetic background, we argue that these results show the role of nurture in the gender gap in cognitive abilities.

Suggested Citation

  • Uri Gneezy & Moshe Hoffman & John List, 2011. "Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities," Framed Field Experiments 00158, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00158
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    Cited by:

    1. Bertrand, Marianne, 2011. "New Perspectives on Gender," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    2. repec:aea:jeclit:v:55:y:2017:i:3:p:789-865 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2017. "The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 55(3), pages 789-865, September.
    4. Iriberri, Nagore & Rey-Biel, Pedro, 2017. "Stereotypes are only a threat when beliefs are reinforced: On the sensitivity of gender differences in performance under competition to information provision," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 99-111.
    5. BenYishay, Ariel & Grosjean, Pauline & Vecci, Joe, 2017. "The fish is the friend of matriliny: Reef density and matrilineal inheritance," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 234-249.
    6. Heinz, Matthias & Normann, Hans-Theo & Rau, Holger A., 2016. "How competitiveness may cause a gender wage gap: Experimental evidence," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 336-349.
    7. Uri Gneezy & Alex Imas, 2016. "Lab in the Field: Measuring Preferences in the Wild," CESifo Working Paper Series 5953, CESifo Group Munich.

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