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Economic behavior not influenced by gender or biological sex – study

Gender and sex assigned at birth are not as decisive in economic decision-making as previously thought.

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Gender and sex assigned at birth are not as decisive in economic decision-making as previously thought. This is according to a study – “On the robustness of gender differences in economic behavior” by Helena Fornwagner, Brit Grosskopf, Alexander Lauf, Vanessa Schöller, and Silvio Städter – published in Scientific Reports.

The first analysis of transgender and cisgender economic behavior, and the first to consider whether sex assigned at birth plays a significant part in economic decisions, the study involved 780 participants, with around half identifying as transgender.

The researchers hypothesized that if gender identity does determine levels of competitiveness, risk-taking or altruism with money, then those with the same gender identity (cis men and trans men, and cis women and trans women) will make similar decisions. Those with a different gender identity would make significantly different economic decisions. Moreover, it was suggested that participants having the same biological sex (cismen and transwomen, and ciswomen and transmen) would behave comparably.

The researchers used a series of economic experiments to determine how competitive the participants were with money, their willingness to take risks and how willing they were to give to charity. Before making any decisions, the participants completed a word search priming exercise that subconsciously assigned them a masculine, feminine or gender-neutral identity by asking them to find gender-specific words.

Using their study design, the researchers first tested for a correlation impact of gender and sex by comparing the behavior of cis-gender men, cis women, trans men and trans women. Second, the priming intervention enabled to control for causal inferences about gender and behavior.

But in contrast to previous studies that established links between gender and economic behavior, the researchers found that gender and biological sex actually make no significant difference to our economic decisions.

Part of their rationale for this unexpected finding is that educational initiatives and a greater awareness of gender equality in private and professional settings have narrowed any economic behavioral differences, which were first established in studies almost two decades ago.

Fornwagner said: “Gender has long been reported to be a driving factor in domains such as competitiveness, risk-taking and altruism, but our study is the first to ask how much can be associated with gender, and how much is based on the biological sex people are endowed with.

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“Despite the partly unexpected findings that led us to conclude that the role of gender and sex is not as decisive for economic behavior as previously assumed, we believe there are several important take-aways from this study.“

“Transgender individuals have become a more and more visible part of society. Thus, we think it is crucial to understand their economic behavior and essential to expand experimental economic research to all groups summarized under the LGBTQ+ flag to acknowledge the colorful society we are already part of also in our scientific research.”


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