SAFE Working Paper No. 168

Women Form Social Networks More Selectively and Less Opportunistically Than Men

We test two hypotheses, based on sexual selection theory, about gender differences in costly social interactions. Differential selectivity states that women invest less than men in interactions with new individuals. Differential opportunism states that women’s investment in social interactions is less responsive to information about the interaction’s payoffs. The hypotheses imply that women’s social networks are more stable and path dependent and composed of a greater proportion of strong relative to weak links. During their introductory week, we let new university students play an experimental trust game, first with one anonymous partner, then with the same and a new partner. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that women invest less than men in new partners and that their investments are only half as responsive to information about the likely returns to the investment. Moreover, subsequent formation of students’ real social networks is consistent with the experimental results: being randomly assigned to the same introductory group has a much larger positive effect on women’s likelihood of reporting a subsequent friendship.