Correlates and Malleability of Preferences/Non-Cognitive Skills

A major part of my recent research agenda aims to explore the development of preferences, attitudes and non-cognitive skills (e.g. patience, self-control, perseverance). This has two main components. The first component involves identifying correlates of these attitudes, such as gender, family background or personality. The second is to explore their malleability, especially in childhood, through randomized interventions, and evaluate the impact through experiments. An important contribution of this agenda is to design novel incentivized tasks to elicit attitudes/skills that are pertinent to economic decisions but understudied in economics, such as grit or curiosity. In randomized educational interventions we have been conducting in Istanbul since 2013, we have shown that patience and grit can be improved through educational programs to be implemented by teachers. The former training program involves ideas related to imagining future selves and exercising self-control, and leads to more patient intertemporal allocations up to 3 years after the intervention, as well as better behavioral conduct at school. The program on grit is based on promoting goal-setting, perseverance and skill accumulation, mainly through instilling optimistic beliefs regarding the productivity of effort. Building grit in this way leads to 1) ambitious goals, perseverance and actual success, 2) higher math scores in the short- and the longer-run, 3) changes in patterns of altruism such that there is less sympathy towards who fail.

Gender and Socialization

The experiments I conducted in the matrilineal and patriarchal tribes of Northeast India with my coauthors Steffen Andersen, Uri Gneezy, John List and Sandra Maximiano mainly aim to uncover the reasons behind observed gender differences in economic behavior. In Andersen et al. (2013), we study competitiveness in children and adolescents of ages 7-15, in matrilineal and patriarchal societies in the Meghalaya region. We find that while there are no gender differences at any age in a matrilineal society that has more equal gender roles, a gender difference materializes around puberty in a similar but patriarchal society, whereby girls’ competitiveness declines and boys’ increases. This research highlights adolescence as a period that educational policies may need to focus on. Likewise, in Andersen et al.(2018) we explore, through a set of artefactual and natural field experiments on bargaining in India, whether gender differences in negotiations observed in the western world also exist in matrilineal societies where women more frequently engage in economic transactions in the actual marketplace. We find that female sellers earn a higher bargaining surplus than males in the matrilineal society in both the lab and the actual marketplace. These papers provide evidence highlighting the role of nurture in shaping observed gender differences.