Ivory Towers: Upping the steaks on beef and horses

Are men more likely than women to brave a steak? Crises such as the current BSE/CJD scare provide good material for anyone researching into people's attitude to risk. We have not yet identified any specific research into beef-purchasing behaviour, but a recent investigation into off-course horse race betting may throw some light on the subject.

"Risky Choice Behaviour: An Exploration of Gender Differences," was a paper delivered at the ninth International Conference on Risk and Gambling by Johnnie Johnson (of the Centre for Risk Research at the University of Southampton) and Alistair Bruce (of the School of Finance and Management at Nottingham University). Their conclusions upset many traditionally held beliefs about the relative cautiousness of men and women.

Their data comprised 343 bets placed by men and 341 by women at UK betting shops and led to three significant conclusions:

Women are more likely than men to bet on a horse to place rather than to win;

Women are more likely to bet on outsiders;

Women are more successful in their bets.

The first two items appear consistent: betting on a favourite to win may offer about the same chance as an each-way bet on a long-odds horse. Yet even when the nature of the bet is taken into account, women still prefer outsiders. When placing a bet on a horse to win, the average woman's bet was at a starting price of 9.5-1 compared with a man's of 7.2-1, while the each-way bets showed 17.9-1 for women and 14.6-1 for men.

"Taken together," the writers say, "this set of results suggests that women have a preference for inherently riskier wagers, a conclusion which runs contrary to the established literature." Despite this, however, women lost less money than men. While men recouped an average of 44 per cent of their stake in winnings, women managed 48 per cent.

The implications to the beef industry are obscure. The question is whether risking money on a long-odds horse compares to risking health on a long- odds steak. It would be interesting to know if the punters eating beefburgers at Beverley are those who bet on outsiders. Further research is clearly needed.