Experimental Economics

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 885–917 | Cite as

Hunger and the gender gap

  • Yan ChenEmail author
  • Ming Jiang
  • Erin L. Krupka
Original Paper


Temporary changes in biological state, such as hunger, can impact decision making differently for men and women. Food scarcity is correlated with a host of negative economic outcomes. Two explanations for this correlation are that hunger affects economic preferences directly or that hunger creates a mindset that focuses on scarcity management to the detriment of other decisions. To test these predictions, we conduct a lab-in-the-field experiment in a health screening clinic in Shanghai, recruiting participants who finish their annual physical exam either before or after they have eaten breakfast. We compare the hungry and sated groups on their risk, time and generosity preferences as well as their cognitive performance. Our results show that men and women respond to hunger in opposite directions, thus hunger reduces the gender gap in decision quality, risk aversion and cognitive performance, but creates one in generosity. Finally, we examine several biomarkers and find that higher blood lipid levels are correlated with greater choice inconsistency, risk aversion and generosity. We contribute to emerging insights on the biological foundations for economic preferences and outcomes.


Hunger Scarcity Gender Risk preference Altruism 

JEL Classification

C91 D30 D81 

Supplementary material

10683_2018_9589_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 4893 KB)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of InformationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Economics, School of Economics and ManagementTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Antai College of Economics and ManagementShanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina

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