Working Paper

Who wants to move first?

Published: 2024

We conducted this research to determine whether there are gender differences in individuals’ willingness to take the initiative, specifically in the context of bargaining with a first-mover advantage. We sought to investigate if women are less likely to move first than men. We also aimed to examine the role of gender norms and psychological costs associated with deviating from these norms in the decision to be the first mover.

We found that, contrary to standard economic predictions, a significant portion of participants (40%) avoided choosing to make the first offer in our bargaining setting even though it was advantageous to do so. Importantly, women were found to be 18% less likely than men to choose to move first. The study also revealed descriptive gender norms suggesting that people believe women are less likely to choose the first-mover role than men. Alternative explanations, such as lack of strategic reasoning or differences in risk preferences, were not supported by the data.

Our findings highlight the need for policies and practices that address the observed reluctance of women to move first. The reluctance among women to move first, despite the potential financial advantages, could contribute to gender disparities in pay and career progression. Our results suggest that existing gender norms play a role in shaping these behaviors and that efforts should be made to challenge or change these norms. Policies that focus on changing the perception of how female peers behave can be potentially beneficial in encouraging more women to move first. This may be achieved, for instance, through exposure to role models or by defaulting women into moving first. Overall, this research underscores the importance of understanding and addressing gender-specific behaviors in decision-making to promote greater gender equality in various aspects of professional life.


Erte Xiao

Centre Member

Jonathan Levy
Lata GangadharanMarina Gertsberg



Gangadharan, L., Gertsberg, M., Levy, J., & Xiao, E. (2024). ‘Who wants to move first?’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2024-01. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland. DOI: