Who REALLY Wants to be a Millionaire? Gender Differences in Game Show Contestant Behavior Under Risk


  • *Direct correspondence to Daniel K. N. Johnson, Department of Economics and Business, Colorado College, 14 E. Cache La Poudre St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903 〈djohnson@ColoradoCollege.edu〉. All data and coding information are available from the same author. The authors thank Jenny Tsai for great coding and data-gathering help, the National Science Foundation's Awards for the Integration of Research and Education program for funding, and Colorado College's Mrachek Fellowship and Mellon program for research time.


Objective. On the popular game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire men appear to average higher winnings than women. This article investigates potential reasons, including different uses of information sources (lifelines) and different perceptions of risk.

Method. We analyzed the decisions and resultant winnings of 164 contestants (95 men and 69 women) over 42 episodes of the show.

Results. Gender-based tests of Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory demonstrated evidence of gender differences in the certainty effect and suggested the counterintuitive conclusion that men are rewarded for acting slightly more cautiously than do women.

Conclusions. These gender differences may be owing to self-selection of contestants, particularly for women, and to different goals: whereas men play to maximize their winnings, women may be less concerned with profit than with the experience as a whole. These findings suggest that examination of gender-related behavior in other risky, high-profile contexts may be worthwhile.