Are men more likely to tell lies for money?


(MoneyWatch) Gender is always a hot topic in economics, and nowhere more so that in the work of behavioral economists who focus on what happens in the real world rather than in theory. Of late, behavioral economists have been interested in lying: why people lie, under what conditions they are more likely to lie and what kinds of people are most prone to lying.

The findings are rich, complex and often contradictory. Among other things, academics at the Stockholm School of Economics sought to determine whether men or women were more likely to lie for financial gain. Building on earlier experiments, they got 312 pairs of students to participate in a game of sending and receiving money in which dishonesty was more profitable than honesty. Who would prove the more honest?

Of the 85 men who took part, 55 percent lied to secure a higher payoff. Of the 71 women who took part, only 38 percent lied. This is statistically significant. There was no gender difference in trust.

It is important to emphasize that, in this game, everyone was anonymous -- no one knew anything about the other participant. This suggests that decisions about whether to lie derived only from a choice about whether falsifying the truth might lead to a windfall. In more personal circumstances, results may differ because other issues are involved, such as maintaining a reputation, appearing selfless or not wanting to hurt some else's feelings.

Some will argue that, being anonymous, this makes the results far more solid. I'm not sure. But it does raise questions about the wisdom of leaving big banks overwhelmingly in the hands of men.

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on