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Gender differences in risk behaviour: does nurture matter?


  • Corresponding author: Alison L. Booth, Research School of Economics, College of Business & Economics, HW Arndt Bldg 25a, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. Email:

  • For helpful suggestions, we thank the editor, two anonymous referees, various seminar participants, and Uwe Sunde and Nora Szech. We also thank the students who participated in the experiment and their teachers who facilitated this. Financial support was received from the Australian Research Council, the British Academy, the Department of Economics at the University of Essex and the Nuffield Foundation. We take very seriously the ethical issues surrounding this research. This experiment received approval from the Ethics Committee of the University of Essex.


Using a controlled experiment, we investigate if individuals’ risk preferences are affected by (i) the gender composition of the group to which they are randomly assigned, and (ii) the gender mix of the school they attend. Our subjects, from eight publicly funded single-sex and coeducational schools, were asked to choose between a real-stakes lottery and a sure bet. We found that girls in an all-girls group or attending a single-sex school were more likely than their coed counterparts to choose a real-stakes gamble. This suggests that observed gender differences in behaviour under uncertainty found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.