inequality income gap inequality income gap People may feel like male-owned products are just more valuable. (Photo: PathDoc / Shutterstock)

Want to make more money on eBay? Pretend you're a man

A new study finds that gender matters, even when buying online.

When you bid on eBay, do you notice the vendor's name? Whether you realize it or not, you probably do. And that's making it harder for women to make as much money as men selling their goods online.

A new study from Israel's Tel Aviv University shows that women make 80 cents for every dollar that men make when selling new products on eBay. That's right: there's gender inequality in the cyber workspace.

The study is "a new addition to the growing body of evidence that gender inequality doesn't end when people go online," says Benjamin Mako Hill, an Internet and communication scholar at the University of Washington, Seattle. "The fact that gender seems to lead to such a gap in eBay, where gender is such a relatively tiny signal, is striking."

A woman looks on an eBay car listing. A new study says women make less money than men when selling goods on eBay. A woman looks on an eBay car listing. A new study says women make less money than men when selling goods on eBay. (Photo: MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)

For two years, Israeli researchers looked at 420 of the most popular products auctioned on the site between 2009 and 2012, about 1.1 million transactions. They examined what happened when men and women tried to sell the same products (iPhones, for instance).

The researchers discovered that when the seller was a woman (or, at least, had a female name on the site), her auctions got fewer bids and raked in a lower final price.

Used products didn't show an enormous difference, but for new products, female entrepreneurs made 80 cents on the dollar for auctioning up completely identical products. This was even true of gift cards.

The researchers first thought men might simply be better at selling their products. Maybe they talk up or even exaggerate their products more than women do. So the researchers performed computer analysis on the product titles and subtitles.

"The sentiment analysis showed that women and men sellers do, indeed, resort to different sentiments," said Tel Aviv University sociologist Tamar Kricheli-Katz, who led the study. But "the difference we found is relatively small." Even after controlling for sentiment, there was still a gender gap of 19% for new products.

To see if pretending you're a different gender would be enough to actually change your income, the researchers ran an additional online experiment. They asked people how much they would pay for a $100 Amazon voucher. When "Brad" offered the voucher, bids were higher than when "Alison" offered the same voucher.

Kricheli-Katz doesn't think this bias is deliberate. “We actually think that most of it is unconscious,” she said in a statement. “The fact is that most of us have biases. We hold them unconsciously, and it makes it difficult to change.”

The lesson here, at least in the short term? If your name is Paula, and you want to sell something on eBay ... change your username to Paul.


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