Although women have made huge strides in catching up with men in the workplace, a gender gap persists both in wages and levels of advancement. An important puzzle in this literature relates to the underlying factors responsible for the observed gender differences. Commonly cited explanations for this gap range from charges of sex discrimination to claims that, as a result of socialization, women are more sensitive than men to work-family conflicts and thus less inclined to make sacrifices for their careers. This kind of explanations is classified as cultural or nurture. An alternative hypothesis that has been put forth is that men and women are born different. For example, in discussions concerning why men considerably outnumber women in the sciences, several high profile scholars have argued that men are innately better equipped to compete in such professions. This kind of explanation is classified as nature. This project would use experiments to explore those two hypotheses. To that end, the project uses an experimental task across two distinct societies: the Maasai in Tanzania and the Khasi in India. One unique aspect of these civilizations is that the Maasai represent a textbook example of a patriarchal society whereas the Khasi are matrilineal. In those societies the investigators study selection into competitive environments. The pilot findings show that, similar to the extant evidence drawn from experimental data in Western cultures, Maasai men opt to compete at roughly twice the rate as Maasai women. Interestingly, this result is reversed amongst the Khasi, where women choose the competitive environment considerably more often than Khasi men, and even choose to compete weakly more often than Maasai men. These results provide initial insights into the underpinnings of the factors hypothesized to be important determinants of the observed gender differences. In particular, the data provide a first piece of evidence that the existing societal structure is crucially linked to the observed gender differences in competitiveness.

This award supports from a full experiment of the competition task. In addition, a field study is conducted in a market in India to study bargaining behavior of two distinct cultures (matriarchal and patriarchal) that interact in the same market, and to study differences in contribution to public goods.

The broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity: This study provides insights into the crucial link between socialization and behavioral traits that influence economic outcomes. Such insights have import within the policy community where targeting of policies can be importantly misguided if the underlying structure at work is ill-understood. Understanding the reasons for gender differences can help in designing policies that target reducing the gender gap in the workplace.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Nancy A. Lutz
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University of California San Diego
La Jolla
United States
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