Eva Ranehill, University of Zürich

"Do gender preference gaps impact policy outcomes"


A large body of evidence documents systematic gender differences in a variety of important economic preferences, such as risk-taking, competition and pro-sociality. One potential implication of this literature is that increased female representation in decision-making bodies may significantly affect organizational and policy outcomes. However, research has yet to establish a direct connection from individual gender preference differences to voting over policy and the resulting outcomes. We conduct a laboratory experiment to provide an initial test of such a direct connection.

In small laboratory “societies,” people repeatedly vote for a redistribution policy and engage in a real-effort production task. In this environment, we demonstrate that gender gaps in economic preferences produce substantial differences in voting behavior, with women voting for significantly more egalitarian redistribution policies. We also observe differences between male- and female-controlled groups, though these are smaller than the mean individual differences, a natural consequence of the aggregation of individual preferences into collective outcomes. Gender voting gaps persist with repetition and experience, though part of the gap we observe is accounted for by differences in task productivity.

Moreover, the strength of the gender voting gap appears to depend on whether the underlying context involves risk. While we find clear evidence of a direct connection between gender-based preference gaps and voting behavior, the direct consequences of pure gender preference gaps for collective decision making may depend on contextual features.