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A Study in Child Cooperation: Sweden vs. Colombia


The behavior of children continues to be of interest for both economists and Freakonomics. Back in May, we looked at research by the German economist Martin Kocher showing that young children are generally less risk-averse than adults. Now, a working paper by Juan-Camilo Cardenas, Anna Dreber, Emma von Essen and Eva Ranehill at the Stockholm School of Economics compares the cooperative behavior of Swedish children and Colombian children using the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, which explores how two parties cooperate in the absence of communication. Here’s the abstract:

We compare how children aged 9-12 in Colombia and Sweden cooperate in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. We introduce a new measurement device for cooperation that can be easily understood by children. There is some evidence of more cooperation in Sweden than in Colombia. Girls in Colombia are less cooperative than boys, whereas our results indicate the opposite in Sweden. Girls are in general more cooperative with boys than with girls. Relating cooperation to competitiveness, this appears to be task and country dependent.

The authors aim to explore how preferences regarding cooperative behavior are formed, given its important role in maintaining a functional society, and the interplay between culture and gender. From the paper:

We find evidence of children in Colombia being less cooperative than children in Sweden. This is mainly due to a significant difference in cooperation between girls from the two countries. Girls in Colombia are less cooperative than boys, whereas our results suggest the opposite in Sweden. We find some impact of the gender of the opponent, with girls being more cooperative with boys than with girls. Correlating behavior in the cooperative task and the competitive tasks, we find different results comparing girls from the two countries, but these correlations are not present in all tasks. There is no evidence of a correlation among boys.