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On eBay, Women Sellers Often Receive Less Money than Men

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Why do women make less than men when they sell identical products online? | Steven Depolo/ Flickr/ CC By 2.0

When a woman sells a new product on eBay, she receives on average about 80 cents for every dollar a man receives for selling the same new product, researchers report in the 19 February issue of the journal Science Advances.

The study may be the first to show using actual product market data what has long been known from previous research on labor markets — that inequality and discrimination put women at a consistent disadvantage.

"Our experiment suggests that at least part of the process is unconscious, meaning that buyers are unconsciously affected by the gender of the seller when making a bid," said Tamar Kricheli-Katz, co-author of the study and professor at Tel Aviv University.

Kricheli-Katz, along with colleague Regev Tali looked at data from over a million transactions from 2009-2012 involving the most popular products auctioned on eBay. Focusing on identical new products (for example, a new blue iPod shuffle), the authors demonstrated that women sellers in the dataset received a smaller number of bids for their products and obtained lower final prices compared with men selling the same products.

As a policy, eBay does not explicitly state the gender of its users, yet the authors show that it's possible to discern gender anyway, from usernames or the kinds of items being sold. [Listen to Kricheli-Katz describe how buyers determine sellers' gender in online sales] Their analysis revealed that for new products, women received on average about 80 cents for every dollar men received, and 97 cents, on average, for used products.

Kricheli-Katz and Tali suspect that potential buyers trust women's description of the condition of used products more than they trust men's, hence the lower price gap between men and women in the case of these goods.

The authors further show in a controlled experiment that participants report a lower willingness to pay for a gift card sold by a woman than a man. The results support the idea that in online product markets, people tend to inherently assign a lower value to products sold by women, and this affects a buyer's willingness to pay for a desired product. [Listen to Kricheli-Katz discuss the next steps in their price research.]

"We were not surprised by the existence of the gender price gap, but we were a little surprised by its magnitude, and by the fact that the results from the gift card experiment were so similar to those found in the eBay data," said Kricheli-Katz.

Helping people (both women and men) realize that cultural norms and status beliefs about gender unconsciously affect the prices they are willing to pay for products could eventually lead to more gender-conscious online transactions, the authors say.