Sun, Feb 21, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Male sellers on eBay have an edge over women, study finds

By Pam Belluck  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Successful sellers on eBay know certain things matter: item description, appealing photos, strong seller ratings and, of course, price.

Now, a study published on Friday in the journal Science suggested another factor might make a subtle difference: whether the seller is a man or woman. Using data supplied by the company, researchers analyzed about 630,000 auction transactions on eBay in the US and reported that, on average, when men and women with equal selling reputations sold the same products, women received lower prices than men.

The difference was far less pronounced for used items: Women sellers received about US$0.97 for every dollar men received. However, with new items, where the authors say direct comparison is easier, women received about US$0.80 on average for every dollar male sellers received.

“The basic point — that people have different expectations of women versus men, and so we treat them very differently in the world — it’s fascinating and depressing,” said Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not involved in the study.

“On eBay, wow,” she said, noting eBay’s fame as a forum where anyone can sell anything and which does not require that sellers identify their gender. “This would be kind of the best example where you would think that discrimination would be at its smallest. So we can interpret these data as a lower bound of what we can expect in other environments.”

The study did not paint a universally negative picture for women. For some items, like toys and pet products, women received somewhat higher prices than men. Women also tended to have better reputations as sellers although they tended to have less selling experience.

Nor did the study, which controlled for seller reputation, experience, number of photos, use of bold lettering and other elements, indicate that buyers were actively or even consciously discriminating. Male and female buyers appeared to treat female sellers the same, the authors said.

“We actually think that most of it is unconscious,” said Tamar Kricheli-Katz, a professor of law and sociology at Tel Aviv University, who conducted the study with Tali Regev, an economist at IDC Herzliya. “The fact is that most of us have biases. We hold them unconsciously, and it makes it difficult to change.”

Besides analyzing actual eBay transactions, the researchers conducted an experiment to see if people could tell the gender of sellers from user profiles. People guessed correctly in 1,127 of 2,000 cases, wrong in 170 and did not know the rest.

In another experiment, the study asked people to place value on a US$100 Amazon gift card sold by someone named either Alison or Brad. On average, Alison’s gift card was valued at US$83.34, while Brad’s was valued at US$87.42.

Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist and expert on gender wage gaps, said the study was intriguing, but needed more analysis.

“Just perceiving that somebody’s a woman, what exactly does it mean?” she asked. “It’s got to mean something about the quality of the good or service or something that’s not captured in the data that they have.”

Without that additional information, Goldin said her hunch is that “the majority of people would be bidding less if they thought that, ‘This really isn’t a 1948 Rolex’ or ‘This really isn’t Jackie Robinson’s signature.’”

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