Are Gender Differences in Performance Innate or Socially Mediated?

50 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2016

See all articles by Ariel BenYishay

Ariel BenYishay

College of William and Mary

Maria Jones

World Bank

Florence Kondylis

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG); Earth Institute at Columbia University; Centre for Economic Performance (LSE)

Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak

Yale School of Management; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Date Written: May 31, 2016


To explain persistent gender gaps in market outcomes, a lab experimental literature explores whether women and men have innate differences in ability (or attitudes or preferences), and a separate field-based literature studies discrimination against women in market settings. This paper posits that even if women have comparable innate ability, their relative performance may suffer in the market if the task requires them to interact with others in society, and they are subject to discrimination in those interactions. The paper tests these ideas using a large-scale field experiment in 142 Malawian villages where men or women were randomly assigned the task of learning about a new agricultural technology, and then communicating it to others to convince them to adopt it. Although female communicators learn and retain the new information just as well, and those taught by women experience higher farm yields, the women are not as successful at teaching or convincing others to adopt the new technology. Micro-data on individual interactions from 4,000 farmers in these villages suggest that other farmers perceive female communicators to be less able, and are less receptive to the women's messages. Relatively small incentives for rewards undo the disparity in performance by encouraging added interactions, improving farmers' accuracy about female communicators' relative skill.

Keywords: Climate Change and Agriculture

Suggested Citation

BenYishay, Ariel and Jones, Maria and Kondylis, Florence and Mobarak, Ahmed Mushfiq, Are Gender Differences in Performance Innate or Socially Mediated? (May 31, 2016). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 7689. Available at SSRN:

Ariel BenYishay (Contact Author)

College of William and Mary ( email )

P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States

Maria Jones

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Florence Kondylis

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Earth Institute at Columbia University ( email )

314 Low Library
535 West 116th Street, MC 4327
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Centre for Economic Performance (LSE) ( email )

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London WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom


Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States
203-432-5787 (Phone)


Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

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