The international media is paying attention to the research of Dr. Elaine Liu, associate professor of economics, with former UH economics graduate student Dr. Sharon Zuo about gender differences in risk aversion in China. China’s diverse culture provides an excellent backdrop to investigate the role of culture in shaping tastes. Newsweek, the London Times, and NPR have posted articles online and the BBC has interviewed Dr. Liu in a live newsfeed (see minutes 37-43).
Dr. Liu writes, “Studies show that women are more risk-averse than men. We explore the sources and malleability of such differences in a setting where children of two culturally distinct populations, the matrilineal Mosuo and the traditionally patriarchal Han, come together to attend school. Using survey and field experiments, we elicit individual risk attitudes from elementary and middle school students from the two populations. When they first enter school, Mosuo girls take more risks than Mosuo boys, while Han girls are more risk-averse than Han boys, reflecting cultural differences. However, after spending time in the majority-Han environment, Mosuo children adopt the risk preferences of the majority. This shows that risk preferences are shaped by culture, and malleable in response to new environments. See the article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2019.