We examine a public goods game in 83 communities in northern Liberia in which 24 randomly selected community members chose how much of an endowment to privately contribute towards a small-scale development project. In half the communities it was known that only women would be selected to play, while in the rest 12 male and 12 female players would be chosen. We find that women contributed substantially more when they knew they were playing with other women than in the mixed gender groups, where they contributed at about the same levels as men. We use a structural model, survey responses, and a second manipulation to try to explain this composition effect. The results suggest that although there are several instrumental logics at work, most of the composition effect comes from women in the all-women condition putting more intrinsic weight on cooperation regardless of value for the public good, fear of discovery, or desire to match others' behavior. We speculate further that game players may have had a stronger motivation to signal public-spiritedness when primed, in effect, to think of themselves as representatives of the women of the community.
James D. Fearon is Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies. His research focuses on political violence – interstate, civil, and ethnic conflict in particular. In addition he has worked on aspects of democratic theory and the impact of democracy on foreign policy. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals, including “How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia” (co-authored with Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy Weinstein, in American Political Science Review), “Self-Enforcing Democracy” (Quarterly Journal of Economics), “Iraq’s Civil War” (Foreign Affairs), “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States” (co-authored with David Laitin, in International Security), “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” (co-authored with David Laitin, in American Political Science Review), and “Rationalist Explanations for War” (International Organization). Fearon was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. He has been a Program Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research since 2004. He served as Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stanford from 2008-2010.