Does economics imply a narrowing gender gap?

In my latest New York Times column for The Upshot, I look at some evidence on the gender gap.  Here is the bad news:

In one set of these experiments, called the dictator game, women were found to be more generous than men. Players were given $10 and allowed but not required to hand out some of it to a hidden and anonymous partner. Women, on average, gave away $1.61 of the $10, whereas men gave away only 82 cents.

In another test, called the ultimatum game, one player received $10 and then decided how much of it to offer to a partner. (Let’s say the first player suggests, “$8 for me, $2 for you.” If the respondent accepts the offer, that’s what each gets. If the respondent is offended by the unequal division or dislikes it for any other reason, he or she may refuse, and then no one gets anything.)

The depressing news was this: Both men and women made lower offers, on average, when the responder was female. Male proposers offered an average of $4.73 to male respondents, but only $4.43 to women. More painful yet was the behavior of female proposers, who, on average, offered $5.13 to men but only $4.31 to women. It seems that women were seen as softies who were willing to settle for less — and the discrimination was worse coming from the women themselves.

I am nonetheless optimistic about longer-term trends, and here is one specific example I give:

As a former chess player, I am struck by the growing achievements of women in this great game — one in which men were once said to have an overwhelming intrinsic advantage. (Among the unproven contentions was that men were better at pattern recognition.) Although women were never barred from touching the chess pieces, strong female players were few in number.

These days, many more women play very well, and the gap between the top men and women in the game is narrowing. The main driver of the change appears to be that more and more women are playing chess, creating a cycle of positive reinforcement that encourages ever more women to excel. We’ve seen a similar dynamic in the workplace, as more women have made great strides in the areas of law, medicine and academia. And this process may spread to other sectors of the economy as well, such as technology industries.

Do read the whole thing.


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