There’s no shortage of studies and data out there showing that gender differences in the workplace exist. This is most commonly reflected in a pay gap between men and women working the same job. The reasons for this gap vary, and are debatable, but the truth is that men and women are different. And it’s likely that our differences will always result in some variation. Of course if discrimination is to blame, that must be corrected.

But what do studies of men and women say about how they treat each other in economic situations? The NY Times Upshot blog has a collective view of the research as compiled in a couple of books. Here are some highlights:

  • There’s an economic game where participants are given $10 and must offer some of it to another person. If the other person accepts the offer they both get the money, so you feel compelled to offer something. Both men and women offered less money when the partner was a women. Even worse, women offered less to women than men did to women. Women also offered more than half of the $10 to men.
  • In another game that measured competitiveness, women were more willing to compete with other women. But they peddled back on the competitive spirit against men.
  • Women negotiate harder for others, and less so when pushing their own interests.

What is driving this behavior?  Do women act differently than men by nature, or are societal norms at play?  That’s difficult to break apart.  But there are ways.  The challenge with economic experiments that a true experiment would require messing with people.  To see the nature vs nurture element we’d need to segment hundreds of baby girls and raise them in a society without the gender norms we have to see how they would react in these situations.  That’s impossible, and immoral.  So economists are limited in what they can measure.

Read: Why the Economic Gender Gap Will Eventually Close (NY Times Upshot)

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categories: economics, jobs