Sexist myth debunked that men naturally take more risks than women

'Environment is extremely important in shaping risk aversion'

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 19 March 2019 12:33 GMT

Gender bias may dictate that women are naturally more cautious than men and hence take fewer risks, but new research debunks this entirely.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that what shapes our approach to risk-taking behaviour has nothing to do with our biological sex, but with our surroundings.

The research found that when given the opportunity, young girls may be even more prone to risk-taking than boys.

Liu and her team examined the behaviour of 500 children from two different cultural groups in southwest China who attended the same school: the traditionally patriarchal Han group and the matrilineal Mosuo group.

In a Mosuo family, the grandmother is usually the head of the household and the child’s father is often excluded from the matriarchal dynamic. Meanwhile in Han culture, families generally follow a patrilineal system.

The researchers measured attitudes towards risk-taking by conducting a lottery-style game, which offered children six choices that ranged from a guaranteed win of three Chinese Yuan (34p), a 50 per cent chance of winning 10 yuan (£1) or nothing.

When the children began primary school, researchers noted that girls from the matrilineal group took more risks than the boys, whereas in the patrilineal group, the girls were less likely to take risks compared with the boys.

But, as the study’s co-author, Elaine Liu of the University of Houston notes, “there was a convergence".

"The Mosuo girls took more risks than Han girls at the beginning, but their attitudes towards taking risks became more similar as they spent more time together,” she said.

While the study carried on until the children reached middle school, the researchers noted that their findings don’t confirm whether or not the changes in behaviour they noted would be sustained into adulthood.

“Environment is extremely important in shaping risk aversion,” Liu added.

“If we can teach girls that they should be more risk-loving, perhaps that will shape their future decision-making. Gender norms are slow to change, but there are social influences that could play a role in how we shape that behaviour,

Liu concluded that the findings could have long-term economic benefits, such as possibly shrinking the gender pay gap if women take more risks in the workplace that might boost their earning potential.

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