Business and Society

The smarter, the greener? Education and gender matter more than income

June 8, 2012 | 1 min read

Values and trade-offs

The authors’ premise is clear: In order to ensure sustainable development based on the 3Ps (people, planet, profit), an overall scaling-back of our standard of living is needed. Choices and trade-offs are needed. In order to facilitate a large societal change, however, Professors Pownall and De Silva recognize the need to understand how large and diverse groups of people make these value choices. Hence their study.

“We explicitly asked a representative sample from the Dutch population — more than 1,400 individuals — about their preference to live in a society which strives towards greater financial wellbeing, or a society which strives towards reducing carbon emissions. We ask a similar question regarding social welfare and the environment.”

Higher education, higher preference for ESG

They also asked about age, education, background, risk preferences, and other variables. “The data is fascinating,” says Prof. Pownall in this video. “It was so interesting to be able to analyze these heterogenous preferences about the environment.”The results?“Strong and striking!,” she says. “We thought a priori that income would be a strong driver of these preferences…but it was much more important to focus on education and gender.”

People with a higher education — university or higher — placed a greater emphasis on social and environmental wellbeing than economic wellbeing. And women were much more likely to put social wellbeing before financial wellbeing, according to their study.

“I think this research brings some very important results,” says Dr. Pownall. “We cannot rely on our financial wellbeing to solve our environmental problems…it’s important that people learn about these issues and …focus more on value based investing, instead of investing just for profit.”


This article may be reproduced according to our terms of use with attribution (and link, if online) to To be cited as: “The smarter, the greener? Education and gender matter more than income”, Dakshina G. De Silva, Rachel A.J. Pownall,, June 8, 2012.

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Low-res video (mp4)
Audio transcript (mp3)
Research Paper


Rachel Pownall
Adjunct Associate Professor of Finance, Tilburg University

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