Podcast: The Detail

Risk-taking girls and the gender pay gap

The Detail today talks to a US researcher about her conclusions on gender and pay, after studying a unique matriarchal ethnic group in China. 

Links between the gender pay gap and a tiny tribe of people in China have been revealed by researchers studying the risk-taking behaviour of girls.

Along the Chinese-Tibetan border, in the Sichuan province, live the Mosuo people. The small ethnic group is the only matrilineal society in China.

University of Houston economist Elaine Liu says instead of giving the responsibility of family stability to men, it’s the women who are in charge of the house and inheritance goes from mother to daughter.

“Everyone living in the same household is linked by blood,” she says.

Liu says even the institute of marriage differs compared with other ethnic groups in the area.

“The father may not be living with the household,” says Liu.

“There is no formal marriage. The children live with their mothers, and the father lives in his mother’s home”.

Liu explains, “each night, he leaves his maternal home to spend the evening with her.”

They call it walking marriage.

The Musuo people have done away with gender-norms and traditional power dynamics.

Liu has studied the Mosuo girls as they integrated into local schools and mixed with other children, comparing their risk-loving natures.

She says people have different theories on how people develop this nature, “maybe this is a given, this is something that you were born with, maybe this was in your genes - whether you’re a risk-taker or not.”

The Musuo Women's Kingdom - the Queen And The Most Beautiful Girls From The Sichuan. Photo: Getty Images

Findings revealed the Mosuo girls to initially be more risk-loving than Mosuo boys.

This was in stark contrast to the girls of the Han ethnic group who are more risk-averse than the Han boys.

But this risk-loving nature steadily depletes, the more the Mosuo integrate with the wider community.

The link with the gender pay gap? Liu says men are risk takers who will go for that high risk/ high reward job, which can affect them in terms of wealth accumulation.

If girls are wrapped in cotton wool compared to their brothers, their decision making processes are affected, and it’s likely they won’t put themselves forward as much.

The World Economic Forum estimates it’ll take another 202 years for the global gender pay gap to close.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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