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Honesty in groups: Gender matters

Author(s): Gerd Muellhauser, Andreas Roider, Niklas Wallmeier

Many nations and corporations strive to raise female membership in decision-making bodies.  This column discusses new experimental evidence suggesting that there is more lying (and more extreme lying) in male groups and mixed-gender groups than in female groups. Moreover, group decision-making exacerbates men’s tendency to lie while the opposite is true for women. This suggests that the gender composition of decision-making bodies is important when the goal is to limit the scope of unethical behaviour.

From VoxEU:

A vast literature has investigated gender differences in a wide variety of economic contexts, both with respect to behaviour and outcomes (Niederle 2014, Croson and Gneezy 2009). Recently, a number of authors have raised the question of whether females behave differently than males in the context of unethical behaviour such as lying. Indeed, some (but not all) studies suggest that males are somewhat more prone to unethical behaviour than females (see e.g. Erat and Gneezy 2012, Childs 2012). As with the bulk of the economic literature, these studies look at individual decision-making. However, in many real world settings, a group of individuals must reach a decision jointly (e.g. in work teams, supervisory boards, or political committees). In fact, there is growing evidence from contexts other than lying that groups often reach decisions in markedly different ways than individuals (Charness and Sutter 2012).

In a recent experiment conducted at the University of Regensburg in June 2014, we investigate how the gender composition of groups affects the degree of unethical behaviour, particularly the extent of lying (Muehlheusser et al. 2014). We build on the simple and widely used die-rolling paradigm introduced by Fischbacher and Föllmi-Heusi (2013). In this setup, individuals are asked to report the private realisation of a die roll, where the respective report determines the subject’s payoff. In particular, the payment that the subject receives corresponds to the declared number of the die roll, except for a declared outcome of six, which leads to a payment of zero. Evidence for lying on the aggregate level is obtained by comparing the actual payoff distribution with the uniform distribution, which would result under-truth-telling. This constitutes the benchmark treatment I.

In a second treatment G, decisions are made jointly in randomly formed groups of two. Hence, groups can be classified as either ‘female’ (only females), ‘male’ (only males), or ‘mixed’ (one female, one male). As a given group received one die and one answer sheet only, they needed to coordinate on both who rolls the die and on which realisation to declare. Group members were aware that each of them would receive the declared payoff.

We find that, when neglecting gender, the behaviour of groups is not different from that of individuals. On average, both groups and individuals report an outcome level well above the no-lying benchmark of 2.5 (individuals: 3.48, groups: 3.47). This masks substantial gender differences, in particular with respect to decision-making in groups.


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