Economists Prove That Women Really Are Less Selfish Than Men

Women are twice as generous as men, according to two American economists writing in the May 1998 issue of the Economic Journal. In an experiment called the ”Dictator Game”, Catherine Eckel and Philip Grossman asked subjects (”dictators”) of both sexes to choose how much of a $10 cash allocation to keep and how much to donate to an anonymous partner. On average, the women gave their anonymous partners $1.60 while the men gave them only 82 cents.
What”s more, the researchers found that women not only give more than men, but they are also more likely to give anything than men. While 53% of the women in the experiment donated some portion of the cash to their anonymous partners, only 40% of the men did so.

Substantial differences in the behaviour of men and women have been shown by research in other social and behavioural sciences. The general conclusion drawn from this work is that women are more socially-oriented (selfless) and men are more individually-oriented (selfish).

But when experimenters have tried to study gender differences in laboratory settings involving significant monetary incentives, the results have often been contradictory. Eckel and Grossman wanted to find out whether the decisions of men and women in economic situations differ fundamentally from those studied in the other social sciences.

The two economists argue that previous contradictory results may have been caused by failure to control for important experimental design factors, such as risk. Their experimental design removes risk and other possible confounding factors, providing a baseline for further gender research. Their finding that women are more generous than men is supported by results from other experiments they have conducted that examine decision-making in a risk-free environment.

Having established a baseline difference that women are more generous than men in a laboratory environment, Eckel and Grossman now plan to address the issue of how other characteristics of the experimental setting influence the behaviour of men and women. In particular, their current work addresses the question of gender differences in attitudes towards risk.

”Are Women less Selfish than Men? Evidence from Dictator Experiments” by Catherine C. Eckel and Philip J. Grossman is published is the May 1998 issue of the Economic Journal. Eckel is at the National Science Foundation and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Grossman is at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Catherine Eckel

National Science Foundation and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University | 001-703-306-1753 ext. 6981 | ceckel@nsf.gov

Philip Grossman

University of Texas at Arlington | 001-817-272-3090 | grossman@uta.edu