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Strome College of Business

Let the Games Begin: Gender Differences in Jeopardy! And Implications for Wage Gap Research

The gender pay gap has been a topic receiving well deserved attention in the public forum. Conversations about negotiations and women in leadership are increasing globally after the loss of over a million women in the workforce during the Covid-19 crisis. Celebrities are using their platform on social media, women are marching in equal pay rallies, and companies are vowing to close the gap. Considering factors such as years of experience, college major decision, and industry choice can account for much of the raw wage gap there remains a stubborn unexplained portion of the gap. Economists have increasingly turned toward non-conventional aspects of performance, such as competitiveness and risk-taking behaviors, and even gender composition of teams or competitive environments to potentially explain the remainder of the gap.

Dr. Jay Walker, Assistant Professor of Economics in the Strome College of Business, and Michael Jetter, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Western Australia, have been researching gender differences in competitiveness and risk-taking using data from a rather unconventional source, the popular US game show Jeopardy! Using Jeopardy! recordings, they measured competitiveness by the likelihood of (i) winning an episode, (ii) responding to a clue (i.e., 'buzzing' in), and (iii) responding correctly to a clue and measured risk-taking via Daily Double wagering decisions. They also studied whether the age of the participant and gender of opponents could influence competitiveness and risk-taking analyzing 186 Jeopardy! contestants in kid's episodes (aged 10-12), 310 contestants in teen episodes (aged 13-17), and 299 contestants from episodes featuring undergraduate college students. While they did not find any differences among males and females in competitiveness, they found females are more likely to exhibit less risk-taking behaviors, wagering 7.3% less than male contestants. Further, they found that while females tend to be unaffected by who they are competing against, males wagered less as the number of female competitors increased.

Their findings have relevance for policy questions, such as those related to male-dominated industries or single- versus mixed-gender schooling, and in explaining wage gap.

When asked what motivated them to use Jeopardy! as a tool for research, Walker says that Jetter discovered a website that provided data on Jeopardy! programs over the course of 30 plus years, and they realized that it could be the key to answering questions on individual characteristics such as competitiveness and risk-taking behavior. Although Jeopardy! may be an unconventional research tool for some, for Walker the game makes it easier to compare differences among participants because of clearly laid out rules compared to data obtained from business settings. By comparing different contestants, Walker and Jetter were able to answer questions such as, "do male and female contestants perform differently in competitive situations?" and, if they do, could this explain some of the income differences that result from gendered behavioral choices in labor markets.

Additionally, Jeopardy! allowed them to compare how men and women reacted in specific settings and conditions that they are competing in. Comparing the unexplained wage gap between men and women, Walker and Jetter used the game of Jeopardy! to compare risk taking by looking at wagering in the daily double wagers. Walker explains, "if we could account for the competitiveness in the gap then this might shrink the difference between the incomes." They found that if a woman was competing against only men, she would exhibit more risk taking. Males were likely to risk less when competing against female contestants; thus, their strategies changed according to the gender configuration of contestants. An implication of this finding is that excessive risk-taking could potentially be mitigated by hiring more women in male-dominated industries such as the finance industry. This line of reasoning has been studied in finance regarding if female executives can be systematically shown to react differently to risk.

The Jeopardy! data also allowed them to investigate heuristic anchoring, which refers to the human tendency to rely on an initial, unrelated, piece of information received before making further decisions. Heuristic anchoring has its origin in behavioral economics and incorporates concepts from psychology. They found that the amount that participants wager on Daily Double clues anchored to the initial dollar value of the clue.

Their findings related to anchoring are relevant in situations where decisions must be made quickly, under pressure, or for high-stake decisions such as stock market investments, retirement planning, and salary negotiations. For example, if an employer asked a candidate selected for a job their salary expectations, it would be advantageous to give a high number to anchor the hiring manager's offer. This would arguably result in the hiring manager starting at the stated number and coming down as opposed to them offering a low number and working up to reach an acceptable amount. Ultimately it boils down to the question "what's the least I will take?" rather than "what's the most I could get?"

Asked about the future, Dr. Walker believes that other game shows, sporting events, or other non-traditional data sources can be used to collect data to study gender gaps just as Jeopardy! has. You can find the list of articles he has published at https://jaykody.wixsite.com/mysite/publications.