Gender Differences in a Cooperation Game: Evidence from 2015_Gender...Evidence from the...

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    Gender Differences in a Cooperation Game: Evidence from the Field in Matrilineal, Patriarchal and Gender-neutral


    Sugato Chakravarty* Abu Zafar M. Shahriar

    S. M. Zahid Iqbal


    Research suggests that gender differences in competitive inclination are fueled by different nurturing of men and women. We investigate whether such differences hold if the experimental task is inherently cooperative rather than competitive. We employ a game involving decisions to repay joint liability-based microcredit whose predominant feature is cooperation among borrowing partners for continued access to funds. We recruit male and female subjects from matrilineal, patriarchal, and gender-neutral societies and find that women have a greater willingness to contribute to group repayment in every society. Thus, women appear to be more cooperative than men irrespective of their different nurturing. JEL Codes: C90, C93, G21, J16. Key Words: gender and cooperation, joint liability-based microcredit, matrilineal and patriarchal societies, field experiments.

    Current Draft: September, 2015


    * Chakravarty and Iqbal are from Purdue University, 812 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47906. Shahriar is from Monash Business School, Monash University, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East, VIC 3145, Australia. The paper has benefited from comments from Jonathan Bauchet, Catherine Barrat, Lee Cohen, Catherine Eckel, Philip Grossman, Elaine Hutson, Asadul Islam, Joyce Jacobsen, Pushkar Maitra, Sandra Maximiano, and the participants of the annual meetings of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the Southern Economic Association in Atlanta, and the Western Economic Association in Wellington, as well as the seminar participants at Purdue, Monash and Deakin Universities. We are grateful to Mohammad Yeasin Ali of Bangladesh Development Bank Limited and Colonel Nowroj Ehsan of the Bangladesh Army for providing logistical support for the project. Shahriar also thanks the generosity of the Research Grant from Monash Business School. We are responsible for any remaining errors.

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    One often hears the maxim that men and women are intrinsically different

    (Lawrence 2006). There is even a bestselling book entitled "Men are from Mars, Women

    are from Venus" that explores innate differences between the genders.1,2 In 2005, then

    president of Harvard University Lawrence Summers drew the ire of women (and some

    men) by suggesting that the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities

    may stem in part from innate differences between men and women.3 In the aftermath of

    the global financial meltdown in 2007, a 2008 article in The Times speculated that a

    reason investor confidence in the banking system collapsed may have been that there was

    too much testosterone involved in making crucial financial decisions.4 The same article

    further asserted that an influx of talented women on the trading floor might make the

    business of risk-taking a saner business altogether. Employing an experimental asset

    market, Eckel and Fllbrunn (2015) set out to investigate the veracity of the claim and

    report that all-male financial asset markets generate higher speculative bubbles than all-

    female markets. The authors suggest that women appear to dislike the competitive milieu

    and react negatively to competitive pressures and that there does appear to be an element

    of truth in the Times article.5 Gneezy, Leonard and List (2009) introduce a simple

    competitive task of throwing a ball in a bucket and find that women in the patriarchal

    Maasai society (in Tanzania) are less competitive than men, whereas the results are

    reversed in the matrilineal Khasi society (in India) where women display more

    competitiveness than men. A notable feature of the above studies is that the underlying

    tasks employed among the experimental subjects are inherently competitive in nature.

    This raises the question: Can the nature of the task itself have any bearing on the results

    reported by these authors?

    Specifically, we investigate whether such gender-differentiated behavior,

    apparently fueled by different nurturing, continues to hold when the underlying task facing

    1 The book, by John Gray (1992), has sold more than 50 million copies, and the catchy title has become a part of popular culture to underscore the intrinsic differences between men and women. 2 In this article, the term gender denotes the grouping of people into female and male categories. Thus, the term gender difference is applied to describe the results of comparing these two groups. 3 4 5Eckel and Fllbrunn (2015) also conduct a meta-analysis of 35 markets from related studies and confirm the inverse relationship between the magnitude of price bubbles and the frequency of female traders in the market.

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    experimental subjects is cooperative rather than competitive. The specific task that we

    employ is a game involving repayment decisions in a joint liability-based microcredit set

    up whose predominant feature is cooperation among the members of the borrowing group

    for overall group success and for continued access to funds.6 In joint liability-based

    microloans, group members payoffs enter into the utility function of a borrower in that

    group. Consequently, other-regarding (or social) preferences, such as attitude toward

    cooperation, play an important role in shaping her/his loan repayment decisions in this

    setting (Abbink, Irlenbusch, and Renner 2006; Anthony and Horne 2003).

    Among the indigenous peoples in eastern Bangladesh, we discovered three

    communitiesthe Khasi, Patro, and Marmawho have historically evolved in distinct

    directions in terms of gender relations. The Khasis have a matrilineal family structure and

    a matrilocal residence system, whereas the Patros are organized in a patriarchal structure.

    Accordingly, female domination in the Khasi and male domination in the Patro societies

    are common knowledge (Chakraborty and Ali 2009). The Marma society, in contrast, is

    distinguished from both patriarchal and matrilineal societies because Marma males and

    females enjoy equal status within their households and in society (Lewin 1869; Marma

    2010; and Roy 2004). Thus, unlike the Khasis or the Patros, gender relations among the

    Marmas cannot be characterized by a typical dominant-submissive framework, and we

    subsequently characterize them as gender-neutral.

    In the literature,microloan repayment experiments have been designed based on

    the intuitions provided by public goods experiments (see, for example, Abbink et al. 2006;

    and Cassar, Crowley, and Wydick 2007).7 Consistent with this literature, we conducted a

    simple microloan repayment experiment with male and female subjects in these three

    distinct societies. The game involved a scenario where we extended simulated loans to

    groups of five borrowers who were jointly responsible for repayment. Group members

    6In actual joint liability-based microlending programs, potential borrowers form small groups while applying for loans. Upon approval, each group member individually receives a loan, but the group, as a whole, remains jointly responsible for repayment. Thus, if a borrower defaults, the other members of the group are required to repay on behalf of their defaulting peer. Otherwise, the entire group loses access to any future loans. Upon successful repayment by the group, on the other hand, each borrower becomes eligible for a new loan (see, for an overview, Banerjee 2013, and Chakravarty and Shahriar 2015). 7 Abbink et al. (2006) conduct their microloan repayment experiments with student subjects at the University of Erfurt. They find that a borrowers willingness to repay joint liability loans decreases with the size of the borrowing group. Cassar et al. (2007) conduct a modified version of this game in South Africa and Armenia. They add a field context to the experiments by recruiting subjects who are likely to participate in actual microcredit programs. They suggest that the willingness to repay increases with the level of personal trust among group members.

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    individually invested their loans in a risky project, and once project-returns were realized,

    they individually decided whether to contribute to the group repayment. Those whose

    projects failed did not have enough money, but those whose projects succeeded had

    enough, to contribute. Subjects with successful projects, however, had two choices: They

    could either contribute to the group repayment, or they could strategically default. The

    game ended if group members as a whole were unable to fulfill their repayment

    obligations (i.e., repay the total amount extended to the group with interest). A successful

    group repayment, by contrast, enabled each member to receive a new loan, and the game

    continued.8 In this task, strategic, or willful, default was compatible with selfish own-

    income maximization, whereas a subjects willingness to repay reflected on her/his

    attitude toward cooperation.

    The results of our experiments show convincingly that women have a greater

    willingness to repay than men in every society. Put differently, women are more

    cooperative with their group members irrespective of the gender relations prevalent in a

    given society. We