Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 191–211 | Cite as

Is social choice gender-neutral? Reference dependence and sexual selection in decisions toward risk and inequality

  • Steven R. BeckmanEmail author
  • Gregory DeAngelo
  • W. James Smith
  • Ning Wang


This article examines redistribution of income in privately and socially risky environments. A majority of women are risk averse and behave according to the Golden Rule while a majority of men are risk seeking in some part of the income distribution and treat others differently than they treat themselves. Our experiments allow subjects to increase or reduce spreads in a five-element income distribution. All changes reduce average pay so any change is costly. Changes may be made that affect only the individual subject and reflect behavior toward risk or behind a veil of ignorance that is thought to induce just behavior, or as an observer. On average women tend to reduce spreads across all conditions, treating others as they treat themselves and reducing risk and inequality to the same degree. Thus, their behavior, on average, follows a concave utility function whether applied to themselves or others. Men generally increase spreads in at least one tail of the distribution if only their pay is affected. However, men either abstain or reduce spreads to the degree others are involved and therefore reduce spreads most when acting as observers. Behavior of men cannot be described either by a concave utility function or by a function that makes no distinction between themselves and others. The gender differences conform to theories of sexual selection.


Gender and risk Social comparison Reference dependence Inequality aversion Social reference points Veil of ignorance 

JEL Classifications

C9 D3 D8 



We thank Dean Guanhua Huang (International College Beijing, China Agricultural University) Sarah Brosnan, Lise Vesterlund, Maleiah Beckman, Laura Gee, John Bishop, Zoë June Smith, Buhong Zheng, and Gary Charness for comments on an earlier version. We also are grateful to an anonymous referee and the Board of Editors for comments and suggestions.

Supplementary material

11166_2016_9241_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (263 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 262 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven R. Beckman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gregory DeAngelo
    • 2
  • W. James Smith
    • 1
  • Ning Wang
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  3. 3.International College BeijingChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina

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