Men Don’t Necessarily Take More Risks Than Women

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In a new study, “Who Takes Risks When And Why?”, Columbia Business School researchers found that both sexes are equally risk-prone — but just in different ways.”The typical view is that women take less risks than men, that it starts early in childhood, in all cultures, and so on,” says Bernd Figner, a research scientist at Columbia University.

Though the study did affirm some stereotypes: men will take more risks in finances, but women will take more social risks, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

First, “risk taking is neither a unitary phenomenon nor a single personality trait,” according to researchers. That is, you can’t simply label a person a risk-taker, because while they may take risks in one area, they’ll play it completely safe in another.

Second, there are two types of risks: cold and deliberative vs. hot and affective. Both sexes respond to these differently, depending upon the situation.

Which brings us to the third point: there are several types of situations in which you can take risks, measured on something called the DOSPERT (Domain-Specific Risk-Taking) Scale, which looks at ethical, financial, health/safety, recreational and social risks. We all weigh these types of risks differently, regardless of gender. According to the study:

Women, compared to men, perceive risks in financial, recreational, and ethical domains to be higher but perceive risks to be lower than males do in the social domain, which explains apparent gender differences in risk taking. Risk perception, in turn, is influenced by familiarity, both with risk taking in these domains and with the available choice options.

So it boils down to this: “If you have more experience with a risky situation,” says Figner, “You may perceive it as less risky.”