Sunday, November 26, 2017

Betting the House: How Assets Influence Marriage Selection, Marriage Stability, and Child Investments with Corinne Low

How do we understand the marriage contract from an economic standpoint? Just as value is created, divided, and exchanged in the labor market, so it is on the marriage market. Last week’s WAPPP seminar featured Corinne Low, Assistant Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as she described the results of her study on marriage and homeownership as a lens into understanding what is valuable about the marriage contract, who reaps value from the marriage contract, and as policies change, how that value is changing over time.

While marriage was previously the universally adopted or aspired to family arrangement, this is no longer the case. There has been a recent increase in cohabitation and nonmarital fertility. However, this change does not necessarily mean that tastes or social values have changed; rather, Professor Low wonders, what in the marriage equation has changed to make people optimize their preferences differently? How has this changed been applied throughout society, where we see a tremendous amount of stratification in rates of marriage based on income, level of education, and race?

The key question in this line of inquiry is what made marriage valuable in the first place, and what made it retain value for some populations and lose value for others?

The marriage contract and nonmarital cohabitation have converged in recent years: the security of marriage has decreased with the advent of unilateral divorce, whereas nonmarital relationships have become more secure with the enforcement of paternity rights and responsibilities outside of marriage. However, there remains one key difference: only in marriage are assets divided up upon divorce. If one person in a cohabitating couple is making all of the mortgage payments, if that relationship breaks up, the other gets nothing. However, in a marriage contract that asset is divided or, very often, assigned to the mother (throughout the presentation, Professor Low referred to this effect in terms of husbands and wives; while this is not universally true, it is disproportionately the case and was used illustratively).

There is, therefore, an important distinction between income, which will be divided in both marital and nonmarital relationships in the form of child support, and asset-sharing, which is unique to the marriage contract.

Home-purchasing, according to Professor Low, may be an important way for husbands to commit to their wives. Because she will be guaranteed at least a share of that valuable asset if the relationship goes south, in her economic calculus it makes sense to invest in the human capital of the children, even if it reduces her own income. Similarly, because the house is at risk, it disincentivizes the husband from unilaterally seeking a divorce. “Betting the House” may be a way of securing the marriage contract.

Investing in children has a cost – if a parent spends time investing in children, they have less time to invest in their own human capital. Generally mothers are the ones making these large investments – women tend to experience a decline in wages after having children, and economically speaking it makes sense for the lower-income partner to invest in children. While marriage used to provide some security for these investments, the marriage contract got more precarious as divorce became easier and more common. However, high-asset individuals can still offer some of this insurance, because those assets will be divided and can provide security for child human capital investments. As such, marriage is really only useful for people who have assets: the decision has less to do with a desire to invest in child human capital than with an ability to secure that investment with assets that can back the marriage contract.

Now that paternity rights and responsibilities are enforced outside of marriage, nonmarital relationships are just as good as marital relationships for individuals without the assets to buy a house – only those with assets get the extra security for their marriage contract. As such, people without assets will flee from marriage, and those with assets will continue to get married. Professor Low and her colleagues set up a model in which nonmarital couples, upon splitting up, would either receive no asset transfer, 1/3 of what the asset transfer in a marital relationship would be, or 2/3 of the marital relationship asset transfer. Under each of these conditions, how do individuals’ preferences change with respect to marital and nonmarital relationships? With no nonmarital transfer, people without assets are divided between marital and nonmarital relationships. At the 1/3 transfer level, people without assets significantly increase their nonmarital fertility. At the 2/3 level, still less than what a spouse would get if a marriage split up, people without assets entirely abandon marriage. At each stage, people with assets choose marriage.

This hypothetical bears out in the data: looking at a longitudinal data set of marriages and average home prices in the year of marriage, those who got married in an era of high housing prices were less able to purchase a home when they got married, and therefore they were less able to secure their child human capital investment. While there are certainly other explanations available, couples facing high housing prices at the time of their marriage tend to have fewer children, and their children are more likely to be held back in school. Assets provide commitment value that allows for greater specialization in the home and more optimal investments in children, which makes the marriage contract more valuable.

This data demonstrates that legal changes (unilateral divorce and paternity acknowledgement) and concordant economic change can be responsible for stratification in marital decisions, rather than “tastes” or preferences. This finding has significant implications for policymakers, as the racial gap in assets and homeownership is much larger than the racial gap in income, in part because of redlining and mortgage discrimination practices. The gap in marriage among racial groups that has been attributed to tastes or values can actually be attributed to homeownership or the ability to get a mortgage.  If we take marriage seriously as an economic contract, it is evident that policies that change the contracting environment have deep implications. This model provides a contracting explanation for why marriage might lead to greater child investment, without relying on arguments about preferences.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gender Differences in Self and Other-Competition with Johanna Mollerstrom

There is a well-established literature demonstrating that women are less likely to choose to enter competitive settings, even when they are just as able as their would-be competitors. While most of these experiments have been conducted in a laboratory setting, different views toward competition have obvious implications for life outside the lab, including education and career trajectories. However, there has not been a similar investigation about women’s attitudes toward self-competition – are women more or less willing to compete against their own previous scores over time? Johanna Mollerstrom, Professor of Economics at Humboldt University, presented the results of three recent experiments on self- and other-competition.

In existing studies, there are generally two mechanisms underlying women’s differential interest in competition: women may be more risk-averse, or they may be less (over-?) confident than men. With self-competition, risk aversion and confidence take on slightly different valences: it’s still risky to compete against yourself, but risk based on the uncertainty of who you’ll be competing against is alleviated. Similarly, confidence may shift when individuals only have to assess their own capacity to improve on previous rounds. There are reasons to believe that self-competition may be different.


The first study was a simple lab experiment designed to test whether there is a gender difference in willingness to self-compete. Participants were asked to add up as many sets of five two-digit numbers as possible in a five-minute period. In the first round, participants were paid a piece rate of $1 for every correct problem. In the second round, participants were either randomly matched with another participant for a competition round or competed against their own first-round score. The winner of the round (either defeating their opponent or their first-round score) got $2 per correct problem. In the third round, participants got a choice between the piece rate and competition, and then were asked a few questions about their risk aversion and confidence. Half of the participants in round three could choose to opt into another other-competition round, while the other half competed against their own scores in round two.

In the other-competition condition, women were less willing to compete than equally-able men, but the difference disappears when controlling for risk aversion and confidence. This finding replicates many past experiments. In the self-competition condition, we see much the same result; risk aversion, in particular, seems to moderate any observed gender difference in willingness to compete. However, this particular experiment had a smaller sample size (N = 200), and a larger sample may indicate that there is no gender difference in willingness to self-compete at all.


The second study recruited a larger sample on MTurk and replicated the first study with a few modifications. The task was changed to a captcha-style exercise rather than addition, and the rounds were shortened to 90 seconds to conform to other online experiments. In addition, the researchers added two additional treatments, manipulating whether other-competitors were matched with someone of the same or opposite sex, while holding constant that they were matched with someone who answered the same number of questions correctly in the first round.

The results of this experiment demonstrated that, again, women were less willing to compete against others, but that the gender difference was moderated by differences in confidence and risk aversion. This experiment revealed a much more precise result for self-competition: there is no significant gender difference in willing to self-compete, though confidence and risk aversion still impact this result. It seems that confidence may play a larger role in decision to compete against others than onself.

Interestingly, when matched with a competitor with the same gender and ability level, women are still less willing to compete than men. In other studies, researchers have found that female-only groups are more willing to compete, but this was not the case in this experiment.

Further, when matched with a competitor of the opposite gender and same ability level, the researchers did not observe a significant gender difference in willingness to compete. It may be that this condition provided better information – competitors did not have to think about how good their competition was, which may have provided a confidence boost (or alleviated some of the risk of competition) and eliminated the gender difference. In both the self- and other-competition conditions, men were less risk-averse than women. However, men were more confident in the other-competition condition; in the self-competition condition, there was no gender difference in confidence.


The first two studies permitted participants to choose whether they wanted to compete; in the third study, participants were forced to compete, but were permitted to choose between self- and other-competition.

In treatment one, participants got the piece rate, then either self-competition or other-competition in randomized order. Finally, participants were able to choose between each of the three options. In treatment two, the fourth round was set up so that participants had to compete, but could chose self- or other-competition. In treatment three, participants didn’t experience self-competition at all: they did two piece rate rounds, and then could choose piece rate or other-competition. In treatment four, participants complete two piece rate rounds, then self-competition, and then in the final round could opt to compete against others.

In treatment one, a large proportion of participants (of both genders!) chose the piece rate. The two competition types seem to be roughly equally popular. In treatment two, when forced to compete, self-competition was much more popular than other-competition. This finding supports the hypothesis that individuals are better able to assess their own capabilities and performance, and may be able to intuit that they can improve a great deal in another round of self-competition.

Having experienced self-competition does not change women’s propensity to choose other-competition. Interestingly, having experienced self-competition makes men less likely to choose other-competition. While this finding may have something to do with how men think about confidence, the researchers did not have an ex ante hypothesis that would explain this result, which is an interesting avenue for future research.

The researchers also sought to decompose confidence by giving each participant a ratio of “how many tasks do you think you completed correctly” over “how many tasks do you think others completed correctly.” In other-competition, men were significantly overconfident and women were significantly underconfident. However, in self-competition, there was no significant gender difference in confidence. Men are more sure that they will beat another person that they are sure that they will beat themselves, while women are more confident in their ability to improve over time rather than beat another person. Men and women are about equally good at assessing their own performance, but women tend to overestimate (and men to underestimate) how well others do. This finding may have relevance for giving feedback: to encourage women, it may be better to tell them “others are not as good as you think” than “you’re better than you think.”

The researchers also examined causal attributions of performance, asking participants on a 1-10 scale whether their performance was “only due to factors I could control” to “only things I could not control.” In self-competition, there was no gender difference in causal attribution – unsurprisingly, all participants attributed self-competition more to factors they could control. In the other-competition condition, women were slightly more likely to think that the result was due to uncontrollable factors. This effect was especially pronounced for participants who believed that they’d won the round: women who believe that they’d won thought that their victory was based on factors that they could not control, such as luck in who they were matched to compete against.

In terms of future research directions, Professor Mollerstrom and her colleagues are interested in whether, if participants know they will be competing against themselves, they undercompete in round one. If so, this finding may limit the contexts in which self-competition would be appropriate. Alternatively, properly calibrated pre-set goals may be an effective middle ground between self- and other-competition. There is a great deal of room to think about how to use competitive institutions – not just other-competition—in more gender-neutral ways that nevertheless preserve the performance-boosting properties of competition.

New Ways of Thinking About Gender and Leadership Effectiveness with Aparna Joshi

The challenges that women face in entering and performing effectively in leadership roles have been widely documented: recent research indicates that the gender gap in pay and promotion is fourteen times greater than gaps in performance. The disconnect between rewards and performance is particularly large in high-prestige occupations. Aparna Joshi, Arnold Family Professor of Management at Penn State University, presented two studies on gender and leadership effectiveness, examining the issue from the perspective of both men and women in leadership roles.

Professor Joshi’s research focuses on gender as a social construction, rather than biological sex differences.  Much of the work that has been done about sex effects in senior management roles focuses on women, but men have gender too! Focusing on sex also may obscure variability among women and men. Through this lens, Professor Joshi investigates whether women are rewarded when they are able to navigate through masculinized environments and whether men are punished when they cannot.

Gender and Leadership in the U.S. Congress

Politics in the United States is a highly masculine context; while women have been making gains in representation, women legislators make up approximately 20% of the U.S. Congress. Professor Joshi’s first study focused on when female politicians have been successful in bringing about change: to what extent are women legislators able to get bills passed? What types of bills are they more or less successful at getting passed? Are women legislators more successful when they highlight their distinctiveness, or when they try to assimilate with the dominant group?

To test these questions, Professor Joshi utilized a sixteen-year longitudinal data set of all Congressional bills introduced from 1993 to 2008, controlling for the president in office and the majority party in Congress. In general, men were more effective than women in getting bills passed (850 to 133) and introduced a larger number of bills overall (approximately 12,000 of 70,000 were introduced by women). Professor Joshi and her colleagues examined the content of these bills and coded them on a range from more female-identified (education, healthcare) to more male-identified (defense, fiscal policy).

The results of this analysis reveal that women legislators are as good as men at getting neutral (neither male- nor female-identified) bills passed.  Men legislators were also about as effective as women at getting female-identified bills; though many men don’t think that they have the credibility to speak about “women’s issues,” they nevertheless demonstrated legislative success. The most significant finding from this sample was that women legislators were particularly successful in getting male-identified bills passed.  This finding indicates that for women in male-dominated environments, distancing themselves from their distinctive identity group may correlate with greater success.

There was also an interesting effect over the tenure of female legislators that seems to indicate both a novelty premium for new legislators and a credibility premium for more senior legislators in passing female-identified bills. This finding presents an exciting avenue for future research!

Gender and Leadership among Fortune 500 CEOs

Professor Joshi also presented a study to problematize the “think manager think male” paradigm that tends to treat men as a monolithic bloc rather than examining variability among men. This study focused on masculinity as a source of variability for men: do different levels of masculinity and femininity predict differential performance or pay among men?

To test this question, Professor Joshi and her colleagues coded interview videos of male Fortune 500 CEOs for masculine and feminine traits and compared these findings to their pay in the first year of being CEO.  Even within this highly select sample of male CEOs, there was a range of femininity and masculinity that further reinforces the idea that men are not all the same.

Among this sample, femininity did not have significant effects on pay or performance.  Controlling for the firm’s prior performance, CEOs that were androgynous were the highest performing in the sample. However, CEOs that were masculine or androgynous were the highest paid in the sample. These findings indicate that while greater masculinity doesn’t correlate with higher performance, it does relate to higher pay.

This study demonstrates, first, that there is gender variability among men, even at the CEO level. Secondly, variations in masculinity can have costs for men. Rather than affecting only women, the “think manager/think male” paradigm also has implications for men navigating masculinized working environments. Further research on gender and leadership effectiveness should be sure to take into account gendered effects on both men and women. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Intimate Violence and Sexual Violence in Chinese Societies with Jia Xue

WAPPP Fellow Jia Xue, PhD Candidate in Social Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, presented her work on domestic violence, social media, and mental health in the Chinese context.  

To begin, she described two cases of domestic violence in China: in the first, a Chinese woman, married at 26, was severely beaten by her husband. She called the police at least eight times, but they refused to intervene on the grounds that domestic violence was a “family matter.” The woman ultimately died in 2008 after ten months of marriage because of the abuse. In the other, an American woman married a Chinese man who was a famous English teacher. When her husband began abusing her, she also reported to the police who said that they could not assist her. She decided to post pictures of her injuries on Weibo, often described as China’s Twitter. Within an hour, her post had been retweeted 10,000 times and had received 4,000 comments. With the help of activists on social media, she launched a landmark case against her husband and received compensation for the abuse.

While these two cases differ on many grounds, the use of social media to speak out against abuse caught Jia’s eye. Weibo was established in 2010 and grew quickly, so that by the time the American woman chose to speak out in 2011, there was an established social media community to bring public scrutiny to her case. Social media, according to Jia, has changed the public from consumers of information to producers of information, telling the government and the media what they think should be on the policy agenda.

The growth of social media in China has been astronomical. More than half of all internet users are Chinese, and almost 90% of the Chinese population owns a mobile phone. Weibo is the leading Chinese social network and boasts more than 600 million users.

While many terms are used to describe domestic violence in the United States – including intimate partner violence, violence against women, and gender-based violence – domestic violence is the sole term used in China, and refers specifically to physical harm perpetrated by current family members. Domestic violence in the Chinese context does not include violence by former partners or among same-sex couples. While there is no national representative survey of domestic violence in China, the All-China Women’s Federation estimates that one-third of married women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.

Jia pointed out a twenty-year lag between the U.S. and China in terms of domestic violence legislation. The U.S. first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 raised awareness about the issue of domestic violence, but the first provincial regulation against it was not released until 2000, in Hunan. In 2001, domestic violence was mentioned for the first time in a national-level law. Finally, after many years of advocacy, a national domestic violence law was passed in 2015, to be implemented in March 2016.

Jia’s research is at the intersection of violence and social media, using computational, big-data approaches to examine domestic violence. One of her current projects is to explore (re)tweeting behavior of domestic violence topics on Twitter. Using topic modeling to summarize and categorize tweets, it became clear that organizational Twitter accounts discuss domestic violence in the context of advocacy, while individual Twitter accounts are more likely to discuss high-profile individual cases, like those about sports or movie stars. 

In a separate study, she examined the correlation between use of traditional or contemporary media and prevalence rates of domestic violence. Survey respondents who were more likely to read books experienced fewer incidents of violence, while those who had higher levels of internet use reported more domestic violence. Jia hypothesized that more time spent online reduces communication between couples, which leads to marital tension, though the reverse could be true: in relationships with a higher incidence of violence, individuals may spend more time on the internet to be away from their spouse. The seminar audience also pointed out that there could be a generational effect: older survey respondents may be less likely to use the internet and less likely to categorize certain behaviors as domestic violence. Alternatively, there could be salience bias in this sample: survey respondents who spend more time online and consume more international news may have learned more about the issue of domestic violence and have a different view of the issue than those who consume more traditional media sources.

Jia described one final study on using social media to explore the impact of domestic violence on mental health in China. One limitation of existing studies is that domestic violence is unpredictable; it is difficult to measure mental health before and after an incident of domestic violence. With Weibo, researchers have a corpus of posts from individuals over a long period of time and can isolate messages before and after a given incident to examine the impacts of domestic violence on depression, suicidal ideation, and life satisfaction.  Jia and her colleagues amassed data from 1.6 million users, a total of 5 billion posts. The researchers selected posts based on nine types of domestic violence keywords and then manually screened posts to ensure that the poster was describing a personal incident. Ultimately, 644 posts were identified as real domestic violence cases. The next step was for the researchers to identify whether the post described the poster’s first experience of domestic violence, including if the post clearly stated that this was the first experience (approximately 70% of posts) or that the poster had never experienced domestic violence before (15%). Ultimately, the researchers ended up with 232 unique Weibo posts. Finally, the researchers selected a group of 232 Weibo users with no domestic violence experience and matched them to the existing pool based on gender and location.

For the four weeks prior to and after the first-time incident of domestic violence, the researchers used natural language processing and behavioral features to create a prediction model of users’ levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and life satisfaction.  The two matched groups did not show any significant differences in mental health before the domestic violence incidents, and the non-victim group did not show any significant changes in mental health over the eight-week period.  For Weibo users who experience intimate partner violence, 40% were more depressed after the incident, but there were no significant impacts on suicidal ideation or life satisfaction. Posters who experienced abuse from their parents demonstrated lower life satisfaction after the first-time event. Those who were exposed to domestic violence but were not themselves the victim had a higher rate of suicidal ideation and lower life satisfaction.

There are certain limitations of this study: researchers have to rely on profile information, and there may be a selection bias for posters who are willing to describe their experience on social media. However, this study was able to show short-term mental health impacts after incidents of domestic violence using innovative methods. These research findings may spur additional research or policy interventions for prevention. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gender and Security Seminar Series: Does Integration Change Gender Attitudes? The Effect of Randomly Assigning Women to Traditionally Male Teams with Dr. Andreas Kotsadam

The inaugural session of the Gender and Security Seminar series featured Dr. Andreas Kotsadam, Senior Researcher at the Frisch Centre in Oslo, Norway, as he presented the results of a recent study on gender attitudes and integration in the Norwegian military.

Though women make up almost half of the paid labor force in most developed countries, occupational segregation persists. With only observational data, it is difficult to understand the causal link. It may be that workers in male-dominated field are more susceptible to gender stereotypes; alternatively, those who choose to work in male-dominated professions may subscribe to those stereotypes to begin with. Dr. Kotsadam’s paper helps to explicate this mechanism.

Dr. Kotsadam and his colleagues joined forces with the Norwegian army, which remains very sex-segregated: women make up approximately 14% of the Norwegian military. While all men and women in Norway must register to be conscripted, only about 1/6 of a given cohort is selected for military service. New conscripts spend eight weeks in boot camp followed by ten months of service. Military officials have made it a priority to increase gender integration, including having mixed-gender squads living together and sharing rooms.

In this study, new conscripts completed a survey on their first day of training before leaving for boot camp. Each person was randomly assigned to a squad: some squads included female soldiers, while others were entirely male. Squads live together, work closely together, and cannot leave the base during boot camp, creating an intense, cooperative setting in which to study gender attitudes. After eight weeks of boot camp, each person completed the survey again.

The survey included three gender-related measures:

1. Participants registered their level of agreement with the idea that same-gender teams perform better than mixed-gender teams. At baseline, 61% of men and 90% of women though that mixed-gender teams performed as well or better than same-gender teams.

2. Participants registered their level of agreement with the idea that it is important that men and women share household work equally. At baseline, 67% of men and 87% of women agreed.

3. As part of the military’s evaluation, participants were asked how well the phrase “I am feminine” described them. The researchers considered anything other than a complete disavowal of the feminine to be a measure of more egalitarian gender attitudes. All of the women and 56% of men agreed at least somewhat with the phrase “I am feminine.”

In comparing the final survey to the baseline, soldiers who had at least one woman in their squad demonstrated a 14 percentage point increase in agreement that mixed-gender teams perform as well or better than single-gender teams. There was an 8 percentage point increase in the number of men who agreed that it is important to share household work. Finally, there was a statistically significant reduction in the number of men who completely disavowed being feminine.

These results demonstrate a clear, large effect on gender attitudes from working together with women in close settings. According to Dr. Kotsadam, the effect is quite general and seems to affect more or less everyone. These results also confirm the central hypothesis of contact theory, which states that if people are placed into close, cooperative settings with equal status and an enforcing authority, “good things happen.” However, the reverse effect also holds in this data: for men who were assigned to single-sex squads, their survey responses became less egalitarian over the course of boot camp.

What impact do these gender attitudes have on perceptions of leadership? When asked which sex makes the best leaders at various levels of command, all soldiers uniformly answered men, perhaps because of an exposure effect: all of the leaders that they had come into contact with were men. However, in an experimental setting involving a fictional candidate for squad leader, soldiers in mixed-gender squads did not discriminate at all between male and female candidates.

Many of the objections to military integration revolve around what happens to men when female soldiers are introduced: to they want to quit the military? Do they demonstrate lower morale, worse performance, or less satisfaction? Does unit cohesion or preparation suffer? In these results, the researchers did not find any differential attrition between same-gender and mixed-gender squads, and all soldiers were equally satisfied with their time in boot camp, whether or not they worked with female soldiers.

The results of this study indicate that gender attitudes are not fixed – it is possible to change them. Dr. Kotsadam cautioned that while this study has a great deal of internal validity, its external validity may be weaker, as the military is a very particular setting made up of very particular individuals. However, this study is a clear confirmation of contact theory and sets the stage for additional work in changing gender attitudes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Discussing Diversity: How Emphasizing and Minimizing Intergroup Differences Affect Bias and Empowerment with Ashley Martin

Over the last several years, there has been an increased push to talk about diversity, under the assumption that being blind to difference is counterproductive and that to leverage the benefits of diversity, we have to emphasize it. But is it really a good idea to talk about difference? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Ashley Martin, PhD Candidate at Columbia Business School, as she presented a series of studies about awareness of difference and effects on inclusion and empowerment.

There is a great deal of literature about awareness of difference with respect to race: talking about difference reduces bias and increases engagement. However, there is almost no research on this awareness strategy for gender. The single study that had been published showed that being aware of or emphasizing gender differences was related to benevolent sexism. As a field, researchers have not systematically explored the types of differences attention to diversity emphasizes, whether they are similar for race and gender, and how this strategy affects outcomes for each group.

Effects of awareness on attributions of difference

In the first study, the researchers asked 143 participants to list ten differences either between men and women or between black and white people. When asked to categorize these differences, it became clear that the listed racial differences were far more in the realm of opportunity and culture, and the gender differences were more related to personality and biology. The results of this initial study demonstrate that the types of differences that people generate when asked to consider race and gender are difference – for race, people focus on external differences related to opportunity, but for gender, people focus on internal differences.

The second study served to measure individuals’ beliefs about how one should approach difference. Study participants were rated on an awareness scale (how often they agreed with statements like “there are differences between groups that should be acknowledged” versus “there is no reason to categorize people based on their membership in a certain group”) and how often they attributed difference to external versus internal factors (opportunity/culture or personality/biology). Study participants who said that we should celebrate racial differences were more likely to attribute difference to opportunity; by contrast, those who said we should celebrate gender differences were more likely to attribute difference to biology. Recognizing external differences with respect to race is a positive development, as recognizing inequality is the first step in disrupting it. However, attributing gender differences to personality and biology has consequences for women.

In particular, the third study revealed that “personality differences” really boil down to stereotypes about gender and leadership; that men are agentic and assertive, whereas women are communal and warm. By telling people to recognize and embrace differences, we may be inadvertently telling them to embrace stereotypes that limit women’s opportunities. In this experiment, subjects were divided into three groups: the first read an article on why it is good to be aware of differences, the second an article on why it is good to be blind to differences, and the third were simply asked to think about diversity.

In the second stage of the study, participants were asked to rate whether differences between groups were due to opportunity or biology, to what extent a list of character traits regarding assertiveness versus communality were associated with each group, and a measure of “denial of inequality” – whether participants thought that discrimination was not a problem, and that on average all groups were treated equally.

On the race side, participants were more likely to attribute difference to opportunity rather than biology. However, those who reflected on the importance of acknowledging difference in the first stage were more likely to attribute differences to opportunity, while those who read the article deemphasizing difference made fewer opportunity attributions. On the gender side, participants endorsed biological reasons for difference in both the control and the “aware” condition. Only the group who read the article about being blind to difference attributed gender differences more to opportunity than to biology. Further analysis of these findings indicated that there was little connection between race and stereotyping. By contrast, all participants associated men with agency much more than women, though in the blind condition, this assessment decreased somewhat.
Overall, this study reveals that being blind to difference is the baseline for racial differences, and that awareness pushes people to consider the antecedents of difference more closely. For gender, awareness of difference doesn’t change results from the status quo, but being blind to difference can improve assessments of women.

Effects on bias

The next study was designed to test the effects of awareness ideology on bias. Two groups of male study participants were asked to read either the “aware of difference” article or the “blind to difference” article, and then were given a woman’s resume and asked to rate her leadership potential and assess whether they would hire her. In the awareness condition, participants rated the applicant lower on leadership potential than in the blindness condition, and were less likely to hire her. The decision to hire is mediated by the individual’s leadership evaluation, which is itself affected by stereotypes regarding agency and what makes a good leader that are emphasized through awareness of gender difference.

Effects on women’s confidence

How do these assessments affect women at work? In the next study, 163 women were asked to make lists of differences or similarities between genders, and were then asked to what extent these qualities undermined their ability to be seen as a leader. When women listed differences, they perceived these differences as having a major negative effect on their leadership potential and listed more words related to agency and assertiveness than when they listed similarities.
In the next phase of the study, 115 women read either the article about the benefits of being aware of difference, the benefits of being blind to difference, or a control article that was completely devoid of any gendered content. Next, the participants took a workplace confidence scale: in the control condition and in the awareness condition, women rated their workplace confidence above the midpoint. However, in the blindness condition, women rated themselves as significantly more competent.

Awareness of difference not only affects confidence, but also action-taking. The next study featured 126 female managers, who read either the aware or blind to differences article, then completed a self-assessment of their agency, the workplace confidence scale, and then participated in several risky decision tasks. In the awareness condition, the participants identified less with agency, rated themselves lower on workplace confidence, and took less action than in the blindness condition.

Dyadic effects

In the final study, the researchers examined how men’s awareness beliefs affected male-female interactions. Study participants were divided into male-female pairs. In the first part of the study, the men read either the awareness or blindness article. Next, the pairs were asked to complete the bushfire survival task, requiring them to discuss and rank a list of survival items in order of importance. Independent raters were asked to evaluate the amount of time men versus women spent talking, the level of openness in the conversation, and the overall quality of the interaction. In the awareness condition, men spoke more than women and were less open. In the blindness condition, women spoke significantly more than men, men and women were equally open, and the interactions were overall higher in quality. Indeed, it seemed that men were “leaning out” so that women could lean in.

The results of these studies indicate that awareness of difference can be beneficial in attributing race to external differences, but that deemphasizing gender difference leads to better outcomes for women. This research demonstrates that diversity strategies shouldn’t be monolithic, as they may not work for all groups. Perhaps instead of discussing differences between men and women, discussing similarities may be an effective intervention to promote gender equality.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Should She Lead? Why Colleagues of Women, and Women Themselves, Often Think the Answer is No with Alison Wood Brooks

Should women lead? We here at WAPPP strongly believe yes, but many people, including women themselves, often think the answer is no. This year’s first WAPPP seminar featured Alison Wood Brooks, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Professor Brooks presented results from two published papers regarding perceptions of women in leadership roles and women’s experiences of those roles, as well as two earlier-stage projects.

We know women are underrepresented in leadership positions: less than 15% of executive officers are women, less than 11% of US firms with venture capital backing have been founded or led by women, and less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. To understand why, Professor Brooks examines both demand-side factors (how people perceive and react to women in the workplace) and supply-side factors (how women themselves think and behave in the workplace, including individual differences in personality and preferences).

The Demand Side: How Gender and Attractiveness Affect Entrepreneurial Pitch Success

On the demand side, Professor Brooks presented a study demonstrating that investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men. An analysis of the pitches given at the three largest entrepreneurial pitch competitions across the US over three years revealed that male entrepreneurs were 60% more likely than female entrepreneurs to win the competition and earn investor funding. In their study, Professor Brooks and her colleagues asked 521 people to watch two entrepreneurial pitch videos and choose one to invest in, switching whether the video was narrated by a male or a female voice. Sixty-eight percent of participants chose a venture pitched by a male voice, at a very high level of statistical significance, controlling for the pitch itself, the order the pitches were presented, participant gender, and participant age.

However, field data reveals that this effect is not just about gender: attractive male entrepreneurs were statistically significantly more likely to win pitch competitions than less-attractive male entrepreneurs. Interestingly, in the field data, there was no statistically significant impact of attractiveness on female entrepreneurial success. In the next stage of the study, to understand whether attractive people might just be better at pitching, the researchers asked 194 people to watch one pitch video and rate it. The researchers varied whether participants heard a male or female voice, and whether the photo of the narrator they were shown was more or less attractive. Participants were asked how likely they were to invest in the venture and to what extent the pitch was persuasive, fact-based, and logical. Again, attractive male entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to secure investment than less-attractive men, while there was no statistically significant difference for women. However, male-narrated pitches were rated as more persuasive, fact-based, and logical. These findings indicate that male entrepreneurs – especially attractive ones—are more likely to receive investor funding than are female entrepreneurs based on their gender and physical attractiveness rather than the content of their ideas.

Extending the Analysis: Data from Kickstarter

Professor Brooks embarked on a new project to replicate and extend this study using big data from, a large crowdfunding platform. Professor Brooks and her colleagues took a sample of 1,249 projects from Kickstarter that included a picture of a single entrepreneur whose gender could easily be identified. Ten independent judges rated the age and attractiveness of the entrepreneurs in every photo. The researchers used the number of investors as a measure of pitch success and included other available information (including number of days left in the campaign) as control variables. Analysis of the Kickstarter data replicates Professor Brooks’ earlier findings. Male entrepreneurs had about twice as many investors compared to female investors, and for male investors (but not female investors) attractiveness garnered more investors.

Professor Brooks also included two follow-up experiments. The first was designed to test the relationship between entrepreneur gender, entrepreneur attractiveness, and investor gender. The results reveal that male investors are more likely to fund good-looking male and female entrepreneurs, but that female investors are more likely to fund attractive male entrepreneurs and less likely to fund attractive female entrepreneurs. The second experiment was to test to what extend these results are about threat. Are women threatened by attractive women? Are men threatened by successful men? The data bears out this initial hypothesis: women are less likely than men to invest in ventures run by attractive women, but are more likely than men to invest in ventures run by successful men.

The Supply Side: How Do Women Themselves View Professional Advancement?

On the supply side, Professor Brooks presented a study indicating that compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable. When asked to list their core goals in life, female participants listed more goals than men overall, but a smaller proportion of women’s goals were related to achieving power at work. These findings hold when people make their own lists of goals, when they select goals from a pre-determined list, and when they reject goals from a pre-determined list. When asked to what extent they expect certain positive or negative outcomes resulting from a promotion to a higher-power position at work, men and women report equivalent levels of positive reactions to the promotion, but women report stronger negative reactions to the promotion. Men and women rate the promotion as equally attainable, but women rate the promotion as less desirable and, compared to men, are less likely to accept the position. These results are consistent across high-level executives, mid-level managers, recent MBA alumni, and undergraduate students.

Importantly, these findings are descriptive, not prescriptive. It may be that men and women are correctly predicting the unique experiences they will each face in high-power positions; alternatively, women may be overestimating the negative consequences associated with power, men may be underestimating the negative consequences associated with power, or both.

New Areas for Research: Gender, Power, Laughter, and Happiness

In a new project, Professor Brooks is working to investigate the relationships between gender, power, laughter, and happiness. Two sources of data provide converging evidence that men and women might use laughter differently: the U.S. Gallup Poll 2013 and speed-dating conversations. In the Gallup poll, women report laughing and smiling more than men in their daily lives, but also report experiencing more negative emotions (worry, sadness, anger, stress). In the speed dating context, women are more likely to laugh during their dates, regardless of how funny they find their partner. However, female laughter is a worse indicator of interest in a second date compared to male laughter. Said differently, women laugh more often, irrespective of humor, but not in a way that is necessarily connected to interest. As there has been little research done on the supply-side dimension of women’s unique experiences, particularly in leadership roles, this is an area ripe for exploration.

For more on Professor Brooks’ research, check out our Gender Action Portal: