Date of Award

Summer 8-8-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Economics

First Advisor

James C. Cox

Second Advisor

Michael K. Price

Third Advisor

Alberto Chong

Fourth Advisor

Vjollca Sadiraj

Fifth Advisor

Mark Isaac

Abstract

This dissertation consists of three essays exploring the heterogeneity of gender differences in behavior across contrasting societies. Are women naturally wired to behave differently than men or is it the social context in which the gender roles operate that motivate their behavior? I study this question in the contexts of risk, trust, and trustworthiness, moral hazard and repayment behavior in microfinance. I use the approach of conducting controlled field experiments in neighboring matrilineal and patrilineal societies in rural India. The two societies differ in gender roles but are comparable otherwise. Understanding the societal and cultural factors that drive gender differences in behavior helps to prescribe optimally-targeted policy designs.

The first essay evaluates the universal policy of gender targeting to mitigate microfinance loan defaults and studies the reasons for such gender differences in default. I design and conduct microfinance field experiments with individual and group liability treatments in comparable matrilineal and patrilineal societies in India. I observe a reversal of gender effect on loan default across the two societies. I find that women have a lower default in the patrilineal society but higher default in the matrilineal society compared to their male counterparts. I also find that group liability leads to moral hazard among the individual group members but reduces overall default due to risk sharing among them. My results suggest that while women are better clients on average, a universal policy of gender targeting to reduce defaults in microfinance might be suboptimal.

The second essay builds on the findings of the first essay that group liability contracts lead to moral hazard among the borrowers. In this essay, I evaluate the policy of gender targeting to mitigate moral hazard problems in microfinance and study the underlying reasons for such gender differences in moral hazard. I address this question by following a similar methodology to the first essay. My experimental design allows decomposing the different moral hazard channels through which default occurs in microfinance and interact them with gender and types of societies (matrilineal and patrilineal). I find that women in matrilineal society are more prone to exhibit moral hazard behavior than patrilineal women. Based on my findings, I argue that the gender differences in moral hazard is driven by the difference in social context, norms and the gender roles between the two societies.

The final essay examines what drives gender differences in trust and trustworthiness, by conducting trust experiments in neighboring matrilineal and patrilineal societies in India. I find that on average the matrilineal subjects are more trusting as well as more trustworthy than the patrilineal subjects, but there is a significant heterogeneity in gender effects. Women in matrilineal society are both less trusting and less trustworthy than patrilineal women, compared to their male counterparts. This finding holds true even after controlling for risk preference and other individual characteristics. My findings suggest that societal structures are crucially linked to the observed gender differences in trust and trustworthiness.

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