Are women just as eager to take risks as men? A new study finds that women are, and even more so if gender stereotypes on risk-taking are slashed.
When one talks about risk-taking behaviors, it's natural to think of activities such as rock climbing and skydiving, or perhaps less death-defying yet equally risky acts such as waging a large sum of money over a bet. These, however, are stereotypically masculine behaviors that do not particularly measure risk-taking in a gender-neutral manner. If we were to measure an individual's risk-taking behavior in such a manner, then perhaps women would seem less risk-taking as they actually are.
"In our culture, risk is strongly associated with masculinity – and our research shows that this also biases how scientists measure risk," said Thekla Morgenroth of the University of Exeter, lead author of the study.
A new research deals with just that, as the team devised a new method of measuring risk-taking in such a way that is more inclusive of activities that women might partake in such as horseback riding. When the masculine stereotypes are slashed from the equation, it turns out that both genders rated themselves as equally risk-taking.
Masculine, Feminine, And Neutral
What the researchers did was to survey 238 people using traditional risk measures and another one which included activities rated as more feminine by a group of men and women. When stereotypically masculine ratings were used, men rated themselves as more risk-taking, but with the new behaviors in the mix, women rated themselves as equally risk-taking and sometimes even more so.
The adjusted risk-taking measure included behaviors such as taking a cheerleading class or preparing a difficult yet impressive meal. Even when the physical and financial risks were equal, the type of activity, whether it is masculine, feminine or neutral, still proved important in the outcome as to which gender is more willing to take risks.
New Standard Of Measuring Risk
That's not saying that women do not engage in the more stereotypically masculine behaviors, as many women do partake in them. What researchers achieved is a new standard of looking at risk-taking in such a way that it covers sorts of activities and behaviors that do not just lean toward a particular gender.
"The assumption that women are risk averse is often used to justify ongoing gender inequality – such as the gender pay gap and women's under-representation in politics and leadership," said Professor Michelle Ryan, co-author of the study.
Researchers believe that this is an important step in understanding gender inequality as this view of women as being less risk-taking does little to close the gender gap. This is especially relevant when one considers that people from all walks of life likely engage in risky behaviors every day, but are dismissed or overlooked simply because of the currently occurring gender stereotypes surrounding risk-taking behaviors.
The study has been published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.