Michael Sandel's new book, What Money Can't Buy, has revived interest in Michael Walzer's idea of "blocked exchanges" - that there should be limits on what can be exchanged for. What sort of people are most likely to support such ideas?
Women, that's who, according to research (pdf) by Jessica Kenneby and Laura Kray at the University of California, Berkeley.
They got students to read stories of how people had sacrificed ethics in the pursuit of cash, for example by selling products they knew to be dangerous. And they found that women were more likely to express moral outrage at such episodes.Women, they conclude, are more reluctant to trade off moral values against making money.This is consistent with other research (pdf) by Ms Kray which has found that "men are more pragmatic in their ethical reasoning at the bargaining table than women."
Whether such differences reflect natural differences or differences in the way we are socialized is a seperate question.
Kenneby and Kray say this might help explain why women are under-represented in boardrooms:
Women's ethical standards may disadvantage them relative to men as they seek advancement in business.
Does it follow that companies would behave more ethically if they had more women in positions of influence?
I'm not sure. The differences Kray and Kenneby identify are, of course, only differences on average. Lots of women are an exception to this average and have more, ahem, pragmatic ethical standards than men; Sandel and Walzer are blokes, remember. And it's reasonable to suppose that they - more than average women - will select into occupations requiring ethical compromises. If businesses try to promote more women, they are likely to promote these women, rather than pluck random ones off the street. If so, then more females in boardrooms won't necessarily mean greater ethical standards. There's a difference between being a woman and acting like a woman.