Sex Roles

, Volume 47, Issue 7–8, pp 301–319 | Cite as

Theorizing Gender for Experimental Game Theory: Experiments with “Sex Status” and “Merit Status” in an Asymmetric Game

  • Peregrine Schwartz-Shea


In experimental game-theoretic research, to the extent that sex has been considered at all, the approach has been to focus on the individual level of analysis. This paper reports the results of experiments designed to focus on sex/gender and to expand the level of analysis to include the institutional level. An asymmetric game was designed such that players in the “male” and “female” institutional locations had 3 and 2 alternatives, respectively. Players earned the institutional locations based on a test, so that top and bottom scorers respectively “merited” the 3- and 2-alternatives locations. Game-theoretic understandings of sex-of-player were compared to the expectations states theory concept of “sex status”; that is, men expect and are expected to perform more competently than women. Results indicated that top-scorer men and women behave similarly; bottom-scorer men “resist” their low merit status (behaving the most “rationally” of all player groups); bottom-scorer women “accept” their low merit status (behaving the most “irrationally” of all player groups). Whereas game theory cannot provide a coherent understanding of these findings, the concept of sex status helps to interpret the behavior of all four player groups and shows how judgments about “rationality” and “irrationality” depend critically on the interpretive framework used.

game theory experiments sex gender feminism 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peregrine Schwartz-Shea
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of UtahSalt Lake City

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