eQuality? Even on eBay, Women Earn Less Than Men

Online auctions are a man's world, says a new study by two Israeli researchers that sheds light on gender inequality in product markets.

eQuality? Even on eBay women earn less than men, two Israeli scientists have found out, based on 1.1 million transactions between 2009 and 2012. Shown in the picture: An eBay sign at an office building in San Jose, California.
Reuters

Take a new item. Any new item. Hawk the thing on eBay. You will make 20% on average more if you are a man, say two (female) Israeli researchers.

Tamar Kricheli-Katz, sociologist and lawyer of Tel Aviv University and Tali Regev, an economist from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, set out to find whether people value the same items (such as a "Bulova 18K Gold 95G07 Wrist Watch for Women") more highly if they're sold by men than by women.

It turns out they do – across the board. Women also bid higher on new stuff sold by men, according to the findings in "How many cents on the dollar? Women and men in product markets."

So much for gender equality, even virtual. The statistics are all too real, however.  

Regev and Kricheli-Katz researched 420 popular items sold in 1.1 million transactions from 2009 and 2012. That's a mountain of data, not a molehill. And it came from eBay itself – the company began allowing science to access its statistics two years ago.

"On average, women sellers received about 80 cents for every dollar a man received when selling the identical new product and 97 cents when selling the same used product," write the researchers.

So if the product is new, male sellers get a 20% bump in price compared with female sellers. If the product is used, there's hardly any difference. Why?

Women are considered more believable than men when they describe the product, the scientists suggest.

There were pretty impressive differences by category, but the underlying logic was baffling. For instance, the gender of the seller made no differences in the categories of books and sporting gear, of all things, and precious little regarding mobile phones, but made a huge difference for jewelry, toys, gift cards and pet supplies.

Why was the theory that men make better salespeople, if that's the conclusion, being tested on eBay as opposed to the corner grocery? Auctions are ideal for testing for gender differences because once an item is listed, its final price isn't affected by the seller’s behavior. There is no negotiation over price, only a bare bidding process. The seller’s bargaining skills, up, down or sideways, do not affect the final price.

It also turns out that bids posted by females attract fewer bids, say the scientists, adding that while gender inequality is no secret, it hadn't been tested in product markets before.

Wait. Ebay doesn't reveal user gender – but evidently, people can tell, or think they can.

"We attribute the price differences to the ability of buyers to discern the gender of the seller," explain the scientists. "We present results from an experiment that shows that people accurately identify the gender of sellers on the basis of typical information provided in postings."

They also demonstrated elsewhere that, in the given controlled setting, people are willing to pay more for money-value gift cards when they are sold by men rather than by women. Go figure.

eBay is therefore very much a man's world, and here's another manly factoid. Only about a quarter of the sellers on eBay are female: "Women represented only 23.07% of the private sellers in the data set," and just under a quarter of buyers.

And although the women had, on average, been on eBay a little less time than the men, they had made a better name for themselves, as we learn from so-called feedback scores: "Women sellers had an average reputation of 275, as opposed to an average of 260 for the men." But women also start auctions at lower prices – and showed a clear preference for buying from women, rather than men.