Gender Differences in Risk-Taking: Evidence from Professional Basketball

by on July 21, 2016 at 1:24 pm in Data Source, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is a new paper by René Böheim, Christoph Freudenthaler, and Mario Lackner, the abstract is to the point:

We analyze gender differences in risk-taking in high-pressure situations. Using novel data from professional athletes (NBA and WNBA), we find that male teams increase their risk-taking towards the end of matches when a successful risky strategy could secure winning the match. Female teams, in contrast, reduce their risk-taking in these situations. The less time left in a match, the larger is the gap. When the costs of an unsuccessful risky strategy are very large (losing the tournament), we find no increase in risk-taking for male teams.

This is consistent with the broader portfolio evidence on risk-taking.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

1 Ray Lopez Fan July 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Why no comments? Amazing.

2 The Original D July 21, 2016 at 2:46 pm

Commenting about gender is risky.

3 Ray Lopez July 21, 2016 at 2:53 pm

So the football “Prevent Defense” is XX, feminine.

4 MC July 21, 2016 at 3:25 pm

I don’t know if that’s right. They said “male teams increase their risk-taking towards the end of matches when a successful risky strategy could secure winning the match.” Prevent defense is usually used when a risky strategy does not give them a better chance of winning a game.

Or perhaps you’re right, and what they’re saying is that male teams would blitz rather than play prevent defense, because a sack would seal the victory, even if it risks giving up a long completion.

I think the stereotypical “female” strategy would be a team that’s down 10 points with 8:00 left in the game punting from the 50-yard line on fourth and 2.

5 Urso July 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I don’t know if this is generalizable across sports. Most of the “evidence” (a term I use fairly loosely because it’s mostly second-guessing, albeit with some stats to back them up) suggests that football coaches tend to be overly conservative; that they’d be better off going for it on 4th more, going into prevent less, and trying more onside kicks. Also note that basketball coaches – particularly at the pro level – tend to have little control over most in-game play calls, especially as compared to football coaches. So there might be a coach/player dichotomy as well.

6 Jim Birch July 21, 2016 at 10:39 pm

To a significant degree, coaching is a war against player instincts.

7 JC July 22, 2016 at 3:23 am

Your nickname is a winner!

8 y81 July 21, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Since this paper apparently fails to explain how the female strategy is in fact better, there should have been a trigger warning on this post. Saying that women pursue the wrong strategy will make them feel excluded and is a Title IX violation

9 Slocum July 21, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Yes. This clearly fails to observe the Althouse rule.

10 Albigensian July 21, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Why has the word “gender” replaced the word “sex,” even in constructions where “sex” would be the better choice?

11 kimock July 21, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Because “sex” has come to mean the activity, and gender has consequently come to mean both body (what was “sex”) and identity / social roles.

12 Peter Schaeffer July 21, 2016 at 4:04 pm

A, K,

Using the word “sex” to refer to males vs. females is not PC. So non-PC that “gender” is now used in biological contexts where it is completely inappropriate.

13 required July 22, 2016 at 2:49 pm

To be correct, they have to say the phenotype sex, not just “sex”.

Yes, there are distinction between phenotype sex (nude visual appearance), genotype sex (XO, XX, XY, XXY, XYY, etc), and gender (role in society).

Gender is a social construct. Genotype and Phenotype are biological constructs.

14 Benny Lava July 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Maybe they saw Juanna Mann?

15 jim jones July 21, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Whenever I watch Formula 1 racing I assume there are no women because they are risk averse and have poor spatial perception, am I wrong?

16 Jim Birch July 21, 2016 at 11:01 pm

There are women in car racing but they are exceptions. They are drawn from a much smaller pool of interested individuals. Women do have slower reactions on average which is a potential deficiency when things are going to happen fast. There’s a biological basis for this. Spatial perception is typically lower but this may be a use/training/interest effect. The brain is pretty plastic here.

Evolutionary game theory suggests that women would be more risk averse and men more expendable. Which is about what we find.

17 JC July 22, 2016 at 3:43 am

I think the way women and men approach risk situations cannot be dissociated from the way we educate boys and girls. Boys are suppose to be courageous and risk takers while girls are told to act “lady like”, so girls who break this “rule” are seen as “boyish” and are exceptions to the rule. However, men seem to be more physically fit than women for certain activities, ‘though current day F1 is not as physically demanding as it was in the past its feeder series where top drivers are separated from the rest are still tough and driving a go-kart for hours can be exhausting.

18 derek July 22, 2016 at 1:07 am

Formula 1 racing is a very small sample to start with, but also represents extremes in coordination, reflexes, endurance. It is interesting to watch a great driver and an excellent driver in his prime; the difference is very subtle, somehow through a mixture of quick reflexes able to keep ahead of the vehicle instead of reacting. Which ends up being a faster time.

There are extremely few who can do this, and even fewer that can do it well enough to win races. Throw in the team dynamics and the ability to set up a car.

19 Bill July 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Actually, this would be interesting to compare to the risk seeking behavior associated with high testosterone traders who, when facing losses, take more risks to get even.

Interesting studies in behavioral finance re testosterone and trading.

20 Urso July 21, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Completely anecdotal but 10-12 years ago I was watching the tail end of an NCAAW tournament game. The team inbounding the ball with about five seconds left was down by 3. Coach apparently drew up a play to get it to the star guard for a 3 point attempt, exciting stuff. The defenders literally abandoned the paint; all five stationed themselves on the perimeter. The guard caught the inbound and had someone in her face. She panicked and threw it to the center who was standing completely alone under the basket, uncontested layup, lose by one.

Of course I don’t remember eaither team and will never find any evidence of this.

21 Urso July 21, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Found it! Miami-Maryland, 2004 NCAA tournament.

22 Dave Smith July 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

I sure such bone headedness happens with the men as well.

23 djw July 21, 2016 at 3:36 pm

As an anecdotal counterpoint, consider the epic “Time Out” call by Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA final. My guess is that unforced errors are gender neutral, though I’m open to evidence to the contrary.

24 Urso July 21, 2016 at 3:41 pm

I’m sure that errors are gender neutral, but we’re referring specifically to willingness to take a risk. Webber’s fuckup didn’t have anything to do with riskiness though, he just forgot how many timeouts there were. Whereas the Miami guard defaulted to the “safe” choice of an uncontested layup, rather than jack up a low percentage guarded three. That seems at least arguably relevant to the post in a way that Webber’s faux timeout was not.

Anyway that game has always stuck in my memory – literally the *moment* she made the pass the guard realized what she had done and started weeping openly. It is one of the moments I first really started to understand just how young these college athletes actually are.

25 Floccina July 21, 2016 at 2:25 pm

So I wonder how the results of male run mutual funds compare to the results of female run funds.

26 Floccina July 21, 2016 at 2:29 pm

I found a study:

Seems like women get the same results while taking less risk.

27 rayward July 21, 2016 at 3:14 pm

“[M]ale teams increase their risk-taking towards the end of matches when a successful risky strategy could secure winning the match”. “Could” secure the match. Or just as likely, “could” lose the match. The authors don’t say which outcome prevails. In football, I’ve never understood the “prevent defense”. Prevent what? Prevent the defense from stopping the offense? Then there’s golf, in which Jean Van de Velde increased his risk-taking to secure the match on the final hole of the 1999 Open. With disastrous results. Of course, there’s no reason why male professional basketball games last 48 minutes when the two teams coast through the first 46 minutes and then increase their intensity the final two to see who actually prevails. Why not just play two minutes so the fans don’t waste much of the evening watching seven foot freaks try to throw a ball though a hoop. .

28 Steve-O July 21, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Prevent is a low-risk (meaning variance) strategy. When you probability of winning is high, you want to reduce variance, and at some thr, it’s worth sacrificing a better mean (regular defense) for a lower variance (prevent defense). Hail Marys, going for it on fourth down, etc. are high-risk strategies. When your odds of losing are high, you should pursue high-variance strategies.

They aren’t saying high-risk strategies are always better. Given a 3-shot lead in the British Open, a low-risk strategy is optimal. If you’re down three shots, the reverse is true.

29 spencer July 21, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Several studies have found that women are better portfolio managers than men.because they manage risk better.

30 y81 July 21, 2016 at 10:07 pm

Even more studies have found that index funds are better than portfolio managers of either gender.

31 required July 22, 2016 at 3:31 pm

The lower your ping (from your computer to the stock exchange center), the more you can match the index funds.

Index Funds have a survival bias.

32 boss July 21, 2016 at 4:27 pm

i think, women are better on defending high risky situations.

33 July 21, 2016 at 11:04 pm

“””The woman who built financial ‘weapon of mass destruction’ “”””

However, her team had moved away from CDS before the crash.

It was also a female member of her team that invented CDO.

“When the costs of an unsuccessful risky strategy are very large, we find no increase in risk-taking for male teams.”

The male team simply invented the CDO squared.

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