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Previous studies have shown that women tend to be more egalitarian and less self-interested than men whereas men tend to be more concerned with social efficiency motives. The roots of such differences, however, remain unknown. Since different cognitive styles have also been associated with different distributional social preferences, we hypothesise that gender differences in social preferences can be partially explained by differences in cognitive styles (i.e., women rely more on intuition whereas men are more reflective). We test this hypothesis meta-analytically using data from seven studies conducted in four countries (USA, Spain, India, and UK; n=6,910) where cognitive reflection and social preferences were measured for men and women. In line with our hypothesis, differences in cognitive reflection scores explain up to 41% of the gender differences in social preferences. The mediation is barely affected by variables such as cognitive ability or study-level characteristics. These results suggest that the socio-ecological or cultural pressures that influence gender differences in cognitive styles are also partially responsible for gender differences in social preferences.


ESI Working Paper 21-22



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