June 14, 2011 at 9:09 AM ET
Let's try a "Jeopardy"-style quiz: "When women bet against men, they're more likely to be this."
If you want to win, your question would be, “What is cautious?”
That's the finding of a new study just published in the online version of “Economics Letters," which was conducted by economists Gabriella Lindquist and Jenny Save-Soderbergh of the Swedish Institute for Social Research. Recent studies done in test situations have shown that all things being equal, gender often does make a difference in gambling situations.
But Lindquist and Save-Soderbergh wanted to see what happens in a real situation. So they turned to 206 archived editions of Swedish Jeopardy -- no hapless grad students or volunteers needed.
In both Swedish and American Jeopardy, the first person to come up with the right question for the previous answer gets the dollar value assigned to that answer, at least temporarily, and gets to pick the next one. Hidden on the game board is the “Daily Double.” The contestant who picks the Daily Double gets to wager some or all of his or her earnings on the next answer. You can double your money, or get less, depending on your initial wager.
“The wagering decision should not be affected by the gender of the opponent,” Lindquist and Save-Soderbergh say. But it was. Women playing against two men wagered 25 percent less of their accumulated earnings than when they played against a mixed group or two women.
“We were not surprised by our result,” says Lindquist, who suspects she’d find the same thing if she analyzed past episodes of the American version of Jeopardy. (Just for a taste of Swedish Jeopardy, categories in the past have included “Famous Anderssons,” and one final Jeopardy question was “Hiking trail between Abisko and Hemavan.” )
The difference, she says, may be one explanation for the glass ceiling, but she doubts it is the only one.
As far as the game went, the difference in behavior didn’t matter much. The researchers report “no systematic gender differences in performance.” Next up? Lindquist wants to study Swedish kids playing a children’s version of Jeopardy, to see if the gender difference starts young.