Girls always try hard, boys completely slack off unless the stakes are really high

Below is an excerpt from a Marketplace interview with Steve Levitt, economist at the University of Chicago and half of the Freakonomics team.

Kai Ryssdal asked Levitt about the effect that financial incentives have on kids. The conclusion: People — especially kids — are “present oriented”. The motivation is greater when the incentive ($20 bill) is placed in front of them and then taken away when they don’t do well. “It hurts more to lose something that’s yours than it is benefit to gain something.”

Levitt’s comments about the difference between girls and boys also stood out.

The interview aired today, July 10, 2012. Emphasis is my own.

Ryssdal: What do we know about boys versus girls? Is there a gender difference in how this thing works?

Levitt: There’s a huge gender difference that we see here, which is that boys are much more responsive at all age levels to every kind of incentive we throw at them.

Ryssdal: Boys can be bribed.

Levitt: That’s exactly right. I think what it really comes down to, and we’ve seen this in many other settings, is that girls basically always try pretty hard. And when you incentivize them, they can’t try that much harder. But boys basically completely slack off unless the stakes are really high.

Read or listen to the whole story here – Bribing kids to do well in school |



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