This study aimed to explore gender differences in trust and reciprocity using the Berg et al. (1995) trust game and the Fehr et al. (1997) gift exchange game. Despite finding in both games no significant gender differences in trust, women were more reciprocal than men in the trust game, but less reciprocal than men in the gift exchange game.
In the trust game, participants were given an endowment of 10 experimental dollars and told they were either a ‘proposer’ or a ‘responder’. Firstly, the proposer decides on how much of this amount to send to the responder, and it is tripled. After receiving the money, the responder makes a decision on how much they want to return to the proposer, but this amount is not tripled. The amount sent by the proposer is seen as a measure of trust, and the responder’s amount is a measure of reciprocity. Participants played this stage game for 10 rounds with pairs being randomly re-matched at the beginning of each round.
Men and women gave similar amounts overall. Although the difference was not significant, the average amount sent by men is higher in early rounds, but drops off more rapidly than that for women (see Figure 1 below).
Women are more reciprocal compared to men and return a higher proportion of the tripled amount received. However, differences here disappear over time also (see Figure 2 below).
In the gift exchange game, participants were given the role of an ‘employer’ or a ‘worker’. Firstly the employer offers a wage with a suggested effort level. Once the worker receives the wage and the suggested effort level, he decides whether to accept the offer. If the worker rejects the offer, then both the employer and the worker get zero. However, if the agent accepts the offer, he then chooses an effort level, given the wage as well as the suggested effort level.
Firstly, they found that there is no significant gender difference in trust in the gift exchange game as measured by the rent offered in a contract (see Figure 3 below).
There are a few considerations when drawing conclusions from these results. Early plays of the game suggest differences in behaviour, but these differences disappear over time with learning. In real life, such happenings occur as repeated interactions where there are likely to be no strong gender differences in the tendency to trust or reciprocate.
In addition, the role of context may be important when looking at issues such as trust and reciprocation. It is interesting to note that while women appear more reciprocal in an experiment that is framed in abstract language, they appear less reciprocal in an experiment that provides a specific real world context.
Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., & McCabe, K. (1995). Trust, reciprocity and social history. Game and Economic Behaviour, 10, 122–142.
Chaudhuri, A., & Sbai, E. (2011). Gender differences in trust and reciprocity in repeated gift exchange games. New Zealand Economic Papers, 45(1-2), 81-95.
Fehr, E., Gachter, S., & Kirchsteiger, G. (1997). Reciprocity as a contract enforcement device: Experimental evidence. Econometrica, 65(4), 833–860.
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