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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Apr 2;116(14):6713-6719. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1808336116. Epub 2019 Mar 18.

Measuring the impact of interaction between children of a matrilineal and a patriarchal culture on gender differences in risk aversion.

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Department of Economics, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77004;
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, MA 02138.
School of Economics, Fudan University, 200433 Shanghai, China.


Many studies find that women are more risk averse than men. Why does such a gender gap exist, and how malleable is this gender gap in risk aversion? The paper takes advantage of a rare setting in which children of the matrilineal Mosuo and the traditionally patriarchal Han attend the same schools in Yunnan, China to shed light on these questions. In particular, we exploit the fact that children would experience a shock in gender norms when they start to intermingle with children from other ethnic groups with the opposite gender norms at school. Using survey and field experiments, we elicit risk attitudes from Mosuo and Han elementary and middle school students. We find that, at the time when they first enter school, Mosuo and Han children exhibit opposite gender norms-Mosuo girls take more risks than Mosuo boys, while Han girls are more risk averse than Han boys, reflecting cultural differences. However, after Mosuo students spend more time with Han students, Mosuo girls become more and more risk averse. By age 11, Mosuo girls are also more risk averse than Mosuo boys. We also observe a shrinking gap in risk aversion for Han over time. Using random roommate assignment for boarding middle school students, we find Mosuo boys who have fewer Mosuo roommates behave more similarly to Han boys. This shows that risk preferences are shaped by culture and malleable in response to new environments.


culture; gender norm; peer; risk; socialization

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