Gender and Risk-Taking: Economics, Evidence, and Why the Answer Matters, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Gender and Risk-Taking

Economics, Evidence, and Why the Answer Matters, 1st Edition

By Julie A. Nelson


144 pages | 20 B/W Illus.

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The belief that men and women have fundamentally distinct natures, resulting in divergent preferences and behaviours, is widespread. Recently, economists have also engaged in the search for gender differences, with a number claiming to find fundamental gender differences regarding risk-taking, altruism, and competition. In particular, the idea that "women are more risk-averse than men" has become accepted as a truism. But is it true? And what are its causes and consequences?

Gender and Risk Taking makes three contributions. First, it asks whether the belief that men and women have distinct risk preferences is backed up by high quality empirical evidence. The answer turns out to be "no." This leads to a second question: Why, then, does so much of the literature claim to find evidence of "difference"? This, it will be shown, can be attributed to biases arising from too-easy categorical thinking, widespread stereotyping, and a tendency to prefer results that are publishable and that fit one’s prior beliefs. Third, the book explores the economic implications of the conventional association of risk-taking with masculinity and risk-aversion with femininity. Not only fairness in employment, but also the health of the financial sector and national responses to climate change, this book argues, are being compromised.

This volume will be eye-opening for anyone interested in gender, decision-making, cognition, and/or risk, especially in areas relating to employment, finance, management, or public policy.


'Julie Nelson’s new book is a rigorously academic bombshell, exploding the social science purportedly demonstrating that attitudes to risk meaningfully differ by gender. In clear and engaging prose, Professor Nelson authoritatively demonstrates how confirmation bias has tainted academic research on this topic, and in the process clarifies both the methodologies capable of revealing how stereotypes undermine the practice of science and the pernicious, real-world consequences.' — Mary C. King, Professor Emerita of Economics, Portland State University, USA

‘A rigorous and important debunking of the notion of fundamental sex differences in financial risk-taking, and a fascinating exploration of the gendering of economic thinking.’ — Cordelia Fine, Professor of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne, Australia

Gender and Risk-Taking offers a model for how to discipline the cumulation of scientific knowledge. In this careful re-examination, Julie Nelson shows how tentative and modest in scope and statistical strength, the evidence on gender differences in risk-taking actually is.’ — Colin F. Camerer, Robert Kirby Prof. of Behavioral Economics, Caltech, USA

Table of Contents


List of Figures and Tables



Part I. To Understand the Answer, You First Have to Have a Clear Question

Chapter 1. The Better Question: How Much Different and How Much Similar

Chapter 2. Why We Get Stuck on the Bad Question

Chapter 3. Statistical Tools for Analyzing Similarity and Difference

Chapter 4. Statistical Tools for Inference and the Detection of Bias

Part II. Evidence about Risk Behavior: Little Difference, Much Similarity

Chapter 5. Difference and Similarity in 35 Scholarly Works

Chapter 6. Difference and Similarity in 37 Investment Game Studies

Part III. Evidence about Stereotyping and Confirmation Bias: Rampant

Chapter 7. Stereotyping and Research Participants

Chapter 8. Confirmation Bias Among Researchers in 35 Scholarly Works

Chapter 9. Confirmation Bias and the Review of 37 Investment Game Studies

Part IV. Why It Matters

Chapter 10. Presumed Timidity: Consequences for Women

Chapter 11. Recklessness: The (Masculine) Gendering of Commerce and Finance

Chapter 12. Fearing Fear: The (Masculine) Gendering of Economics and Policy



About the Author

Julie A. Nelson is Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Senior Research Fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, USA.

About the Series

Routledge IAFFE Advances in Feminist Economics

The International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) aims to increase the visibility and range of economic research on gender; facilitate communication among scholars, policymakers, and activists concerned with women's wellbeing and empowerment; promote discussions among policy makers about interventions which serve women's needs; educate economists, policymakers, and the general public about feminist perspectives on economic issues; foster feminist evaluations of economics as a discipline; expose the gender blindness characteristic of much social science and the ways in which this impoverishes all research - even research that does not explicitly concern women’s issues; help expand opportunities for women, especially women from underrepresented groups, within economics; and, encourage the inclusion of feminist perspectives in the teaching of economics.

The IAFFE book series pursues the aims of the organization by providing a forum in which scholars have space to develop their ideas at length and in detail. The series exemplifies the value of feminist research and the high standard of IAFFE-sponsored scholarship.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / Microeconomics
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / General