Second-Order Beliefs and Gender in the Lab

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One plausibly important, but relatively ignored, mechanism for explaining behavior in a variety of economic settings are second-order beliefs- beliefs about other people’s beliefs. Second-order beliefs about gender-specific distributions, in particular, may be important to understanding the mechanisms underlying gender differences in outcomes. In this paper, we develop a methodology to elicit second-order beliefs about the differences between two populations, then apply it to elicit beliefs about the differences between men and women in a lab experiment. We elicit both first and second-order beliefs about the performance of men and women on a timed math task and an abstract bargaining task. We find that men and women both believe that men score higher on the math task. Participants’ second-order beliefs are distorted-both men and women believe that men’s beliefs favor men more than they actually do and believe that women’s beliefs favor men less than they actually do. First-order beliefs about bargaining also favor men choosing higher minimum acceptable offers in the Ultimatum game, but second-order beliefs are distorted in the opposite direction. Our methodology can be easily adapted to measure second-order beliefs about the differences between any two populations in any measurable personal characteristic.

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