WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Higher testosterone levels might explain why some women seek out risky financial trading jobs while others stick to more stable business careers, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.
Female MBA students with higher levels of the "male" hormone testosterone were far more likely than those with lower levels to choose finance careers such as investment banking that can be lucrative but also risky, a team at Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago found.
"This study has significant implications for how the effects of testosterone could impact actual risk-taking in financial markets, because many of these students will go on to become major players in the financial world," University of Chicago's Luigi Zingales, who worked on the study, said in a statement.
"Furthermore, it could shed some light on gender differences in career choices. Future studies should further explore the mechanisms through which testosterone affects the brain."
Zingales and colleagues studied 550 MBA students at the University of Chicago who were forced, as part of their coursework, to give saliva for testosterone tests. Their fingers were also measured, because studies have shown that finger length is affected by how much testosterone a person was exposed to while in the mother's womb.
The researchers were able to find out about the career choices of 379 of the students two years after graduation.
"Individuals high in testosterone and low in risk aversion were more likely to choose risky careers in finance," they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Men and women both produce testosterone in their bodies, although men usually have much higher levels. High testosterone is linked with many traits, including aggression and a relish for risks.
"In general, women are more risk averse than men when it comes to making important financial decisions, which in turn can affect their career choices," Northwestern's Paola Sapienza said in a statement.
"For example, in our sample set, 36 percent of female MBA students chose high-risk financial careers such as investment banking or trading, compared to 57 percent of male students."
But women with higher testosterone levels ended up choosing more risky career paths, they found.
Other studies have found that male financial traders will make much more aggressive trades on days when their testosterone is high.
The researchers said it is not clear whether testosterone actually causes the behavior -- they said it is possible some other factor makes a person likely to enjoy taking risks and to also have high levels of the hormone.
The researchers found no correlation between finger length and levels of testosterone in the saliva.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman