Men are more likely to engage in riskier behaviours than women, or so the stereotype goes. However, according to a study with children, these differences are far from written in stone, but are shaped by society.
To find out how gender may affect risk-taking behaviours, Elaine Liu at the University of Houston in Texas and her team visited a small town in south-west China, where children from two ethnic groups — Mosuo and Han — attend school together.
These two groups have different traditional gender norms, with women typically heading Mosuo families, whereas men typically take this role in Han families.
Liu and her team asked 352 children in the town to play a lottery game. The 7 to 12-year-olds had to select one of six lottery tickets, labelled 1 to 6, with the higher the number, the riskier the choice but the bigger the possible reward. For example, ticket 1 was guaranteed to win a small prize, while ticket 6 had a 50 per cent chance of scooping a larger prize.
Among the youngest children, Mosuo girls tended to favour riskier choices, compared with Mosuo boys. However, this pattern reversed in older children.
For Han boys and girls, boys tended to favour riskier ticket choices than girls, and this didn’t change with age.
The results show that Mosuo children are influenced by their Han peers rather than biological factors, says Liu.
Although these gender differences exist, they are small and most women and men act the same, says Julie Nelson at the University of Massachusetts.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1808336116
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