Erin Giffin, University of California

"Identity Formation, Gender Differences, and the Perpetuation of Stereotypes"


Gender differences in economic decisions are well-documented and span a variety of important choices.  Laboratory experiments have been used to identify potential mechanisms to explain these differences, and the results have most frequently been attributed to men and women having different preferences, especially when subjects' choices are anonymous.  In this paper, I propose a theoretical model that highlights that persistent gender differences can arise without differences in preferences.  I show that if two groups are identical ex ante but there exists a stereotype about one of the groups, then groups will behave in ways consistent with this stereotype in equilibrium.  Extending this to a multi-period model, I show that if individuals endogenously form group identities through habit formation, these differences will persist in the long-run, even after choices are no longer observed.  The model thus depicts a mechanism through which external constraints are eventually internalized and captures how social norms can become self-enforced by individuals.  Using multiple existing experimental datasets where gender data were collected but never analyzed, I find evidence consistent with my model's predictions.  I then conduct a new experiment to directly test the proposed mechanism.  I show that by exposing subjects to external constraints in initial decisions, I mitigate gender differences in altruism.  Moreover, this remains true even when those external constraints are removed.  However, when subjects are not initially exposed to these constraints, women are significantly more generous than men. 

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