Search the Site

Episode Transcript

More than half of all college students in the U.S., about 57 percent, are female. As of January 2103, women were no longer barred from combat positions in the United States military. The male-female income gap is tightening. Women hold about 20 percent of the seats in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives – the highest proportion ever. Three of the last five Secretaries of State were women. One of them, Condoleezza Rice, recently became one of the first female members of Augusta National Golf Club, one of the oldest and goodest good ol’ boy clubs in America. Equality of the sexes has long been a goal, and in many ways that goal is being met. But, as you’ll hear on this program, the variance between men and women on some dimensions is still large. In other words: Women are not men. In some ways obvious — and in other ways less so. Patents for instance: Women file only about 7.5 percent of all patents.

Jennifer HUNT: Well, I was amazed because in many other areas, women are really closing in on men and this gap is just so enormous.

That’s Jennifer Hunt, an economist at Rutgers. She argues that if more women were to patent, it would add nearly 3 percent to our per-capita GDP. And why, we asked her, do so few women patent?

HUNT: Men are more likely to be in jobs involving design work or development work, so the “D” in the R&D.

Let’s see, what else can I tell you about the differences between women and men? Did you know that women are far less likely to get struck by lightning?

John JENSENIUS: Typically, 80 to 85 percent of the lightning fatalities across the United States are men.

That’s John Jensenius, a lightning specialist at the National Weather Service.

JENSENIUS: We think the reason for that is that men tend to be outside more than women and they also tend not to go inside when lightning threatens.

Men are also more prolific at drowning.

Julie GILCHRIST: Males have almost four times higher drowning rates than females.

That’s Julie Gilchrist from the Centers for Disease Control. It’s not just that men spend more time in the water. They also overestimate their swimming abilities, and drink more. Alright, what else? Women are half as likely as men to become alcoholics, but twice as likely to have a phobia. And women are more likely to kill off a bad marriage — they file for roughly two-thirds of divorces. And here’s an amazing statistic I’m sure you don’t know. We uncovered one thing that women and men do in exactly the same proportion: They listen all the way to the very end of each episode of Freakonomics Radio. So have a seat.

*      *      *

On today’s show we’re talking about the ways in which women are not men, for better and worse. We’ll start online. Here’s John Riedl, he was a professor of computer science at the University of Minnesota.

John RIEDL: We know that women have been increasing dramatically as percentage of participation on just about any internet site you can imagine.

WOMAN 1: The retweet, it’s like viral gold.

WOMAN 2: I’m going to go through a couple of things that you need to know as a new member of Tumbler.

WOMAN 3: Pinterest, the hottest social media site going right now.

RIEDEL: So for instance, females now outnumber males on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s been true just about across any aspect of the internet you can imagine. Including much to many people’s surprise, online games.

WOMAN 1: Here are a few completely incorrect stereotypes about female gamers. We are ugly. We don’t like violent or scary games. We are only playing games because we lost our way to the kitchen.

But there’s one online realm where women are not so well-represented. Bourree Lam, the editor of, has the story.

LAM: Wikipedia is by far the largest encyclopedia in history. It has more than 24 million articles in 275 languages. Launched in 2001, it’s run by volunteers who call themselves Wikipedians. Now what does this have to do with women? For years not much. But in 2011, a New York Times article, by Noam Cohen, argued that only one in six Wikipedia editors were women. John Riedl was a bit skeptical, so he decided to run a study.

RIEDL: Much to our shock, we found out that not only was his overall message right on but that the best data we could get suggests that things were even worse in terms of the amount of female contribution. He had reported that about 16 percent of the editors were women, and we found that to be true. But we found that those females only made about 9 percent of the edits, which was even more surprising and disappointing.

LAM: It might help to explain how editing on Wikipedia works. As a volunteer, you can click on any article and unless it’s a controversial gated article, you can edit it and add new information. But later, other Wikipedians can delete your edits if they don’t like your changes. That’s called reversion. And if your article is deemed irrelevant, it can be deleted.

Sarah STIERCH: When I started editing Wikipedia, I never really thought that I was the only woman.

LAM: That’s Sarah Stierch. She’s been a Wikipedia editor for nine years. Back then, it had a mere 1 million articles. Stierch remembers the first article she edited.

STIERCH: My first article was deleted; I can proudly say that. I wrote it about a guy in a band that I knew, and it’s no longer on Wikipedia.

LAM: This past year, Stierch has been serving as a Community Fellow for the Wikimedia Foundation. She’s been working on the gender imbalance. She’s trying to get more women involved by hosting meet-ups like this one, not too long ago in Oakland. But why are women so underrepresented on Wikipedia, especially when that’s not the case with other big sites like Facebook and Twitter? John Riedl says the Wikipedia imbalance bothers him because ….

RIEDL: The first place we all go these days is to Wikipedia, and it really worries me to think about half of all of humanity being left out of creating this information resource, which is the greatest encyclopedia in the history of humanity. And half of humanity is being left out of writing it. And we know for a fact that that half of humanity is getting short shrift.

LAM: It turns out that men even dominate the Wikipedia articles that would seem to be of greatest interest to women. Sarah Stierch again:

STIERCH: There’s the more trivial subjects.

STIERCH: But then there are things that women know the most about next to our doctors, so to say. Pregnancy, abortion …

STIERCH: … those articles are mainly written by men. And they are a contentious subject, oddly enough, pregnancy, yes, is a contentious subject.

LAM: So that seems odd, especially because one in four American doctors is female, along with half the medical school population. So why aren’t women editing Wikipedia?

STIERCH: When I’ve spoken with women around the world, the biggest reason I hear is often, I don’t have time. And that always intrigues me. I mean I get it, I just wrapped up a full-time masters working two jobs, you know I’m busy. People who have children, we’re all busy people.

LAM: Men do, in fact, typically have more daily leisure time than women. In the U.S., it’s about 40 minutes a day. And women do tend to do more housework, so, maybe that’s taking up their time. But John Riedl has another explanation.

RIEDL: We know from a bunch of psychology studies that women tend to be made more uncomfortable by conflict than men are made uncomfortable by conflict. And so one of the ideas is maybe in Wikipedia where the fundamental nature of the site is that if you want to correct what someone else has done, the way you do that is you delete it and write them a really mean message. Well, maybe that’s creating a culture of conflict that is driving women away. They just don’t find it a place they enjoy being, and so they go places where they’re happier.

LAM: I remember you told me that there was some backlash to your report?

RIEDL: Yeah when we put the report out one of the things we notice was that a bunch of bloggers — all male, we should say — came out and said, “Well, this is a waste of time. No one needs to be told that there aren’t women editing Wikipedia. They should just suck it up and be tougher and come in and join, there are no technological limitations and so it’s their fault for not participating more.”

LAM: But Riedel says there’s something else built into the structure and the ethos of Wikipedia that might be discouraging women.

RIEDL: It’s not a model that everybody has to agree on the content of any one piece of information on Facebook. And I think that on Wikipedia, by contrast, there’s this very different ethos, which is, the job of the community is to make sure that these articles are as high-quality as they can, I think that’s a very good thing, and the way we get there is we delete each other’s work when we don’t like it. And that creates a very different style of site, a place where people are constantly being engaged by other people rejecting their work.

DUBNER: So John Riedl’s evidence suggests that women and men may have very different appetites for conflict, which might keep some women away from a place like Wikipedia. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if somebody out there had looked at this in the context of — well, of men and women competing against each other.

Uri GNEEZY: We looked at competitiveness.

DUBNER: Ah. There you go. That’s Uri Gneezy.

GNEEZY: I’m Uri Gneezy. I’m a behavioral economist at the Rady School of Management at U.C. San Diego. My main research interest is around incentives, how they affect people, and gender differences, some deception, anything that someone can find interesting.  

DUBNER: Freakonomics producer Suzie Lechtenberg has the story.

LECHTENBERG: Uri Gneezy has three kids: two girls and a boy.

GNEEZY: We really tried to raise them in a gender-neutral environment. So we bought our daughters dolls and trucks and they were very happy. They put the dolls on the trucks. So the truck was used, you know, as a stand. My son was also very happy to get the dolls. He smashed them to the wall and ran them over with the car.

LECHTENBERG: But it was unclear to Gneezy how much of this gender difference is nature and how much is nurture.

GNEEZY: When we drove back from the hospital with the babies, I drove and my wife sat near the baby. So socialization starts, you know, at the hospital or when you leave the hospital and the baby is a few days old. And it’s almost impossible to disentangle this from actual behavior.

LECHTENBERG: Gneezy began to think about the salary gap between women and men. It’s well-known that women earn less — the Labor Department says about 82 cents for every dollar a man earns — but why? Well, there’s a lot of research out there. It suggests that, yes, there is discrimination, but also that women have different preferences than men, in work and in family. But what if there was another, overlooked factor that could help explain the gender gap?

GNEEZY: We thought that maybe a big and important difference is how willing men and women are to compete and how do they react to competitive incentives.

LECHTENBERG: To test if men are more competitively inclined, Gneezy and some economist colleagues wanted to do a field study. They wanted to get away from Western society to see if they could learn how much culture is a factor in how competitive we are.

GNEEZY: We wanted to go to real cultures in the real world and see how they behave. So we took two very extreme cultures. The first one was the Masai in Africa, in Tanzania.

LECHTENBERG: Gneezy and a group of researchers traveled to Arusha in Tanzania. Arusha is near the Kenyan border, not far from Mt. Kilimanjaro. From Arusha, they planned to travel to two Masai villages. The Masai are cattle herding nomads. They are, perhaps, the archetypal African tribe with their beaded jewelry and brightly colored robes. And, as Uri Gneezy says, “Masai culture is very unkind to its women.”

GNEEZY: The Masai is a very extreme patriarchal society in which is you ask a man how many kids he has he will tell you how many boys he has. Women cost about 10 cows, so they are the property of their husband. If the husband doesn’t like what the wife is doing, he can beat her, he can abuse her.

LECHTENBERG: The men are usually in their late 20s to 30s when they marry and they often have multiple wives. Their brides, generally teens, undergo female genital mutilation before marriage. Women do much of the hard labor. As one woman said, “Men treat us like donkeys.” Uri Gneezy has studied competition before. Once, he and some colleagues had people compete, solving mazes on computers. He planned to do something similar, with the Masai, except he’d have them solve the mazes on paper, using pens. Right from the start, though, things didn’t go according to plan. The very first Masai woman wasn’t having it …

GNEEZY: She said look, I’m 30, I’ve never held a pen in my life, I don’t see a reason to start now.

LECHTENBERG: Clearly, they needed a plan B.

GNEEZY: The wooden maze that we came up with, that was the next solution.

LECHTENBERG: They spent 12 hours building a maze out of salvaged wood.

GNEEZY: But I’m not a very good carpenter. I’m happy I’m not a carpenter because that would have been really bad.

LECHTENBERG: And were you able to solve your own maze, or?

GNEEZY: No, no, no it had a mistake, it was unsolvable.


LECHTENBERG: So this was a little bit stressful … here the researchers were, 10 thousand miles from home …

GNEEZY: We have hundreds of people waiting for us in the field and we don’t have a task. On the way to the hotel I see tennis balls in the bucket. Who would have imagined that in Arusha you would see tennis balls in a bucket in a store? But I did. I bought those tennis balls in the bucket and turned out to be a perfect task.

LECHTENBERG: This is what they’d have people do: Participants were asked to toss a tennis ball underhanded into a bucket about 10 feet away. They had 10 chances. They were matched with another unidentified person playing the same game on the other side of the building.

GNEEZY: The experimenter explained to them the task, you know, throwing the ball into the bucket and asked them a very simple question: Do you want to be paid say one dollar per every success? It wasn’t a dollar, but it was equivalent to that. Or, you can be paid three dollars for every success that you have for every ball that lands in the bucket, but only if you do better than the person behind the corner.

LECHTENBERG: Basically, if the player picked the more competitive option, they could get paid three times the amount of money. Gneezy says it wasn’t long before word got around that these “ridiculous Americans” were paying villagers to throw tennis balls into buckets. People came from all over the village to play. And what happened?

GNEEZY: Many more men chose to compete than women. About twice as many men chose to compete than women did, which is very much in line with what we observe when we run it in the U.S., or any Western society.

LECHTENBERG: Fifty percent of Masai men chose the more competitive option. Meaning they chose to be paid more money if they made more baskets than the person around the corner. The women had less appetite for risk. Twenty-six percent of the women chose the more competitive option. Now, this may not come as a huge surprise, that men raised in an extreme patriarchy are more competitive than women.

GNEEZY: So the next step was to go to our anthropologist friends and ask them what’s the other extreme? Where can we find a society in which women are in charge?

LECHTENBERG: All of these anthropologist friends pointed to the Khasi in northeast India. The Khasi are one of the world’s few matrilineal societies, where the youngest Khasi daughter inherits the family’s money and property, men move into their wives’ houses when they marry, and children take their mother’s family name. Overall, life for the Khasi women is pretty good.

GNEEZY: In the Khasi Hills where they live, they clearly have a much higher standing than probably anywhere else in the world. The women are in charge. The women decide what kind of crops they’re going to raise. They are in charge of deciding how to spend the money, the family’s money. The household decisions are theirs. They go to the market to sell the items. When you go to visit their home, they will greet you. They are just used to being considered equal to the men.

LECHTENBERG: The Khasi Hills are really rainy. The region holds the world’s record for the most annual rainfall. There is something else unusual about the place that Uri Gneezy noticed when he arrived.

GNEEZY: And as an economist we try to quantify everything and try to say, oh they are nice seven or something like that. I don’t know how to do that, but just the feeling was very nice. So we walked around in the nights in the middle of the rice fields. And people are just nice to each other.

LECHTENBERG: People are so nice to each other, he says …

GNEEZY: At one point I had 60 thousand dollars in cash in my suitcase and I left them with the cook over there in the house that we rented in the village without any worry. You know, the guy could have taken the money — that’s like taking $60 million for me — and disappeared somewhere in India. I didn’t have to worry about that.

LECHTENBERG: And so, in this place where prize money left untended in a suitcase is fine, and the kindness is unmeasurable, the study began.

GNEEZY: Same experiment that we did with the Masai. Everything is the same. I took the buckets, the same balls from Tanzania, all the way to India.

LECHTENBERG: They started with two opposing hypotheses.

GNEEZY: The first one is that culture is not really important. It’s the same story as my kids. We are born differently and we just react to this. And the alternative hypothesis is that when women are brought up in a culture in which dealing with money, making decisions is part of the daily routine and that’s what they observe as girls, they’re going to be just as competitive as men.

LECHTENBERG: And what did they find?

GNEEZY: And that’s what we found. We found that culture was extremely important.

LECHTENBERG: Before we delve into the results, remember how the game worked: Players had two options. They could get paid X amount for every time they made a basket. Or, they could pick the more competitive option and get paid three times that amount if they did better than their anonymous opponent. So how did the Khasi people do? Fifty-four percent of Khasi women picked the more competitive option. Thirty-nine percent of Khasi men made the same choice. Khasi women were more likely to choose to compete than even the super-patriarchal Masai men we heard about earlier.

GNEEZY: So the implications are clear. It’s not that men and women are not born differently. I’m sure they are. And you can come up with good evolutionary stories about why men are more competitive than women. What we showed is that’s not the only factor that goes in, which again is not a big surprise, but the other factor, the culture is so big, can be so big that it can just overturn the results. So if you grow up in a matrilineal society, women are actually more competitive than men. So it can completely override any evolutionary explanation, any nature kind of reason. Nurture could be that big. And I think that’s the main result of this study is that in the right environment, women are going to be just as competitive as men.

LECHTENBERG: In other words, as Uri Gneezy and his co-author John List say, “nurture is king” or in this case “nurture is queen.” So, what’s the solution? How do we begin to re-socialize our girls? Gneezy says, not so fast.

GNEEZY: I’m not convinced, for example that I want my daughters to be more competitive. I’m not sure that it’s actually good. Maybe we should concentrate on making boys less competitive.

DUBNER: Coming up on Freakonomics Radio, we take a look at something puzzling that has happened to women’s happiness. Why?

Betsey STEVENSON: First of all, we call it a paradox because we don’t know the answer.

DUBNER: And later, if you’re rooting for women and men to become totally and completely equal, should you root for women to commit more crimes?

Jennifer SCHWARTZ: If you look at all different types of crime that the police enforce, 75 to 80 percent of those offenders are male.

*      *      *

DUBNER: Today’s program is called “Women Are Not Men.” Now, there are about a million ways to think about that simple sentence, a million ways to argue with it. We’re not trying to start any arguments. We’re just trying to look at the data that show differences between men and women, try to figure out why those differences exist, how meaningful they are. What you need to know for this next story is that there is a lot of research that ties income to happiness. Generally, more money means a higher level of happiness, or well-being. Over the past 30 years, women have made big gains in education and the workforce, which means they’re making more money than ever before. And so, the thinking goes, women should also be happier than ever before. Shouldn’t they? Betsey Stevenson is a an economist who shuttles between university and government jobs. Along with Justin Wolfers, her domestic partner and fellow economist, Stevenson wrote a paper exploring female happiness.

STEVENSON: Women are reporting life satisfaction levels that are lower than they were in 1970. Now, there’s a couple things to note. One is that women told us that they were happier with their lives in the ‘70s than men were, so we had a happiness gap in the ‘70s where women reported greater well-being than men. And what we have now is a new gap where men report greater life satisfaction than women. The magnitudes here aren’t huge, but it’s the fact that the directional shift is the exact opposite of what we would have expected given that it’s women’s lives that have really become more expansive, more options, and a greater ability for them to choose the type of life that would make them best off.

DUBNER: So how do you explain it, Betsey? I mean, women were given a larger choice set, which economists tell us larger choice sets to a degree are really good. Women were given and accomplished in a lot of other areas that we would associate with, you know, benefits of different kinds: financial benefits, psychic benefits, and so on. How do you account for the decline? How do you account for the paradox? What are the mechanisms by which that paradox exists?

STEVENSON: Well you know, first of all, we call it a paradox because we don’t know the answer. What we found was this decline in women’s well-being relative to men was seen not just in the United States, but was seen in Europe, it was seen in every country where we were able to get a long-enough time period to be able to look at several decades of trends in well-being. And it occurred in countries where the gains for women differed substantially. So I know a lot of people would like to say, “Oh, this goes to show that, you know, women entering the labor force has been very difficult for them and it’s reduced their well-being.” But, you know, our research doesn’t make that case because we saw the declines in well-being relative to men in countries where women had very little change in their labor force participation, and similar changes in countries where women had very large gains in their labor-force participation.

DUBNER: You make the point that women’s happiness declined as they entered the workforce in greater and greater numbers and started to earn more money relative to men, although still less relative to men, and that gains from women yielded greater happiness for men relative to the women. Could it be in some way that men get happier for whatever reasons because there are more women in the workforce?

STEVENSON: Well let me clear, we put that out as a hypothesis, not that there’s evidence that that’s definitely what’s happening. I mean, what we know is the correlation is that over a time period where women have gained more autonomy, more financial power, more market power, more responsibility and power within their families that they have become less happy and men have become slightly happier. And so one possibility is that somehow this sort of revolution in our lives has actually benefited men more than it’s benefited women. And, you know, the comment that Steve Levitt made to us was, of course women have become less happy, they’re living their lives like men, and now they’re just as happy as men, which is not as happy.

DUBNER: All right, so Betsey, no offense, but this is a little depressing. So, do you have any good news, or at least advice about what can be done? What are some things that people can do, that women can do to recapture or get more happiness in the modern world?

STEVENSON: You know, I agree with you, the whole conversation is a little bit depressing. And I think that, you know, trying to be maximizers in everything might not lead to the greatest happiness. And so trying to figure out what it is that’s really important to us and letting other things slide and feeling okay about that, feeling like it’s okay that I’m doing the thing that’s most important to me, or that I’m not giving my all at work because I’m splitting my energy between work and my kids and I’m okay with that. You know I … But I also, you know, I also hesitate to say that there’s definitely a problem here.

DUBNER: What about earning more money though, would that be a good idea? Would the median woman become a bit happier if she were able to earn more money?

STEVENSON: I think that sometimes people get a little bit confused about the data on this, but what we see really strongly in every data set you look at is that richer people are happier than poorer people. And what we see is that over time, when countries get richer, their citizens get happier on average. And so women putting themselves in positions where they have a greater ability to earn income is really important. Now there is this other thing, which I think I should mention, which is that often women are underpaid. And they’re underpaid because they simply don’t ask. They don’t ask for the raise they should get. And there’s really compelling research on this that women tend to not negotiate as hard, tend to be less likely to ask for a raise. And so if you could be earning more doing the exact same job that you’re doing, I think you’d be better off. So you should go out there and ask for that raise.

DUBNER: That was the economist Betsey Stevenson on the gender gap in earnings, and in happiness. Now there’s one more difference to look into today. An activity that we should be very, very happy that women do much, much less frequently than men.

SCHWARTZ: So where we see the starkest gender differences are for homicide, rape, robbery, those sorts of major felony-types violence.  

DUBNER: That’s Jennifer Schwartz. She’s a sociologist at Washington State University.

SCHWARTZ: And I study gender and crime. Mainly I’m interested in why females offend. Why they don’t offend. If they’ve changed the types or amount of offending they do.

DUBNER: All right, then how much offending do women do?

SCHWARTZ: If you look at all different types of crime that the police enforce, 75 to 80 percent of those offenders are male.

Steve LEVITT: There are only two crimes in the United States today for which women get arrested more than men.

DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author.

LEVITT: One of those is prostitution. And it turns on the other is being a runaway, that if you’re a juvenile and you run away from home, you can get arrested for that, and it turns out girls get arrested more than boys for running away from home. Other than that, men run the table on women when it comes to crime.

DUBNER: For Jennifer Schwartz, the idea of thinking about women and crime was a natural outgrowth of thinking about the feminist movement.

SCHWARTZ: I think the hook for me was, you know, taking the common sense, or what seemed like common sense, that as women gained more freedoms and as women had more access to opportunities that they would engage in more crime. And that seemed to be what the common sense notion was, but once I started looking at the data it seemed the opposite was true, or at least there was no support for this idea that women’s liberation would increase their offending. And so I think that sort of puzzle made me want to know … well, why women are offending in the first place and why aren’t they offending any more given that we think women have come so far and have so many opportunities what’s holding them back from offending if they are making gains in other avenues in legitimate work? Why aren’t they making gains in the underworld, I guess. So that was the hook for me, trying to figure out that puzzle of why aren’t women offending more given that their status in society has, you know, bettered for the most part.

DUBNER: Now, to be fair, women have started committing some crimes more often. Forgery, embezzlement, even auto theft, a little. But compared to men, their rates are still very low.

SCHWARTZ: I know, I have a little bit of mixed feelings because that, you know, when I think about it I say I’m not rooting for women to become more criminal or have more criminal opportunities. I guess it’s just another form, or another context in which women are blocked from, you know, achieving at high levels. But, you know, it’s a, it’s sort of a difficult thing to unpackage, I guess.

DUBNER: It may be difficult to unpackage but let’s be clear: It’s a good thing that women, having closed a lot of gender gaps over the past few decades, aren’t rushing to close the crime gap. There are other gaps that one might hope will be preserved or, better yet, closed but in the other direction. Men should aspire to get to where women already are. Did you know, for instance, that a man is much less likely than a woman to do you a favor? Men are much worse at washing their hands, which, if you’re thinking about a hospital setting in particular, can be bad news. There’s also research showing that men, if you ask them a question, are thoroughly incapable of simply saying, “I don’t know,” even if in fact they don’t know the answer. Now, why is that? Let me betray my gender here for a moment and simply say this: I don’t know.

Read full Transcript