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Are Men and Women Different Economic Agents?

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A705
Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession
  • Chair: Lawrence M. Kahn, Cornell University

Identity Formation, Gender Differences, and the Perpetuation of Stereotypes

Erin Giffin
Colby College


Gender differences in economic decisions are well-documented and span a variety of important choices. Laboratory experiments have been used to identify potential mechanisms to explain these differences, and the results have most frequently been attributed to men and women having different preferences, especially when subjects’ choices are anonymous. In this paper, I propose a theoretical model that highlights that persistent gender differences can arise without differences in preferences. I show that if two groups are identical ex ante but there exists a stereotype about one of the groups, then groups will behave in ways consistent with this stereotype in equilibrium. Extending this to a multi-period model, I show that if individuals endogenously form group identities through habit formation, these differences will persist in the long-run, even after choices are no longer observed. The model thus depicts a mechanism through which external constraints are eventually internalized and captures how social norms can become self- enforced by individuals. Using multiple existing experimental datasets where gender data were collected but never analyzed, I find evidence consistent with my model’s predictions. I then conduct a new experiment to directly test the proposed mechanism. I show that by exposing subjects to external constraints in initial decisions, I mitigate gender differences in altruism. Moreover, this remains true even when those external constraints are removed. However, when subjects are not initially exposed to these constraints, women are significantly more generous than men.

Can Female Role Models Reduce the Gender Gap in Science? Evidence from Classroom Interventions in French High Schools

Thomas Breda
National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Paris School of Economics
Julien Grenet
National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Paris School of Economics
Marion Monnet
Paris School of Economics - EHESS
Clémentine Van Effenterre
Harvard University


This paper reports the results of a large-scale field experiment that was designed to
assess whether short classroom interventions by external female role models with a
science background can influence students’ attitudes towards science-related careers
and affect their choice of field of study. Using a random assignment of the interventions
to high school classrooms in the Paris Region, we find that a one-hour
exposure to a female role model increases by respectively 30 percent (20 percent)
the probability for girls in Grade 12 to enroll in a selective (male-dominated) STEM
track in higher education the following year, inducing an increase in the representation
of girls in those tracks from 30 to 34 percent (28 to 31 percent). We find only
limited effects of the interventions on boys’ educational choices in Grade 12, and no
effect for female and male students in Grade 10. Several mechanisms can explain
the observed changes in college major choices among girls in Grade 12. First, for
all students, the program strongly reduces the prevalence of stereotypes associated
with jobs in science and gender roles in science. Second, it raises students’ interest
in science-related careers. Third, it slightly improves their math self-concept. We
find that the program was particularly effective at steering high-achieving girls in
Grade 12 towards selective STEM studies, and that female facilitators with a professional
background had larger effects than young researchers. The results suggest,
however, that role models also increase students’ awareness of female underrepresentation
in science and reinforce the belief that women are discriminated in STEM
careers, which could explain their limited effects among low-achieving girls.

Gender Differences in Job Search Behavior and the Gender Earnings Gap: Evidence from Business Majors

Patricia Cortes
Boston University
Jessica Pan
National University of Singapore
Laura Pilossoph
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Basit Zafar
Arizona State University


A large experimental literature has documented gender differences in risk preferences and overconfidence. Since searching for a job is inherently a dynamic process with significant uncertainty, gender differences in preferences and beliefs are likely to lead to gender differences in job search behavior and starting salaries.
In this paper, we empirically and theoretically examine the interaction between risk preferences, overconfidence, job search behavior, and its impact on starting pay. We begin by establishing some facts about gender differences in the job search process utilizing information on job offers and acceptances from a survey of business undergraduate alumni from Boston University. We document a clear gender difference in the timing of job offer acceptance – a simple hazard analysis reveals that females accept offers at a rate that is 18% faster than males. The earnings gap in accepted offers narrows in favor of women over the course of the job search period. Consistent with the idea that gender differences in risk preferences and overconfidence may account for gender differences in job search behavior, the rate of rejecting offers is higher for overconfident and risk-loving males.
To rationalize the empirical patterns, we develop a job search model that incorporates gender differences in risk aversion and the degree of confidence about the offer distribution that individuals face. The model generates a decline in the gender gap in accepted offers over the course of the year – as men learn over time and become less overconfident, they begin to accept more low-wage offers, which works to lower the gender wage gap. The eventual goal is to estimate the model and conduct counterfactuals.

Gender Differences in Responses to Incentives

Sally Sadoff
University of California-San Diego


In a series of experiments, we offer students incentives to put forth effort on low stakes tests. We find that incentives have a larger impact on the test scores of male students than female students. Our results suggest that at baseline, in the absences of extrinsic incentives, girls are more intrinsically motivated than boys to put forth effort. Gender differences in intrinsic motivation can help explain why gender gaps in education vary in both magnitude and direction, depending on the measure used.
Corinne Low
University of Pennsylvania
Scott Carrell
University of California-Davis
Amanda Pallais
Harvard University
Lise Vesterlund
University of Pittsburgh
JEL Classifications
  • J1 - Demographic Economics
  • J7 - Labor Discrimination