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NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
1 37 7 (,)
Seating Preferences of Bus Commuters in Singapore: The Effects of Gender,
Ethnicity and Age
N Sriram & Jenny Kurman
WORKING PAPER NO. 25
Seating Preferences of Bus Commuters in Singapore:
The Effects of Gender, Ethnicity and Age
N. Sriram and Jenny Kurman
Running Head: Gender, Ethnicity and Age Preferences
September 3, 1994
N. Sriram, and Jenny Kurman, Department of Social Work and Psychology, National
University of Singapore.
The research was supported by research grant RP920010 from the National University of
Singapore to N. Sriram.
Correspondence concerningthis article should be addressed to N. Sriram, Department of Social Work and Psychology, National University of Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 0511, Republic of Singapore (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 2
Seating Preferences of Bus Commuters in Singapore:
The Effects of Gender, Ethnicity and Age
This study examined the role of gender, ethnicity and age in seating preferences of bus
commuters. In each of 1239 observations, a commuter chose to sit next to one of two
The characteristics of the chooser and the two window
available window commuters.
commuters were recorded. In-group preference was found with respect to gender and was also
clearly present for choosers in the majority ethnic group. In the case of age, there was
consistent preference for younger over older persons. When both window commuters are
from the same category, interesting contrasts were observed. Females do not mind sitting next
to one of two males but males avoid sitting next to one of two females. If both window commuters are from the same age group, in-group attraction emerges. Compared to males,
females exhibited more consistent gender, ethnicity and age effects.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 3
In-group favoritism is a pervasive phenomenon in intergroup relations and has even been
demonstrated in the laboratory with arbitrarily created minimal groups (Tajfel, 1982). A
variety of methods have been employed to assess intergroup bias. For example, performance evaluations of in-group members are more favorable than that of out-group members (Hinkle & Schopler, 1986). The same trend is found in the case of attributions (Bond, Hewstone, Wan
& Chiu, 1985). In-group biases were also revealed using behavioral measures in both experimental and naturalistic settings. Laboratory studies have used money or point
allocations (Brewer & Silver, 1978; Ng, 1986) and preferences for various objects including
dolls (Clark & Clark, 1958) and faces (McLellan & McKelvie, 1993). The selection of friends has been studied in naturalistic settings using self-reports (Kandel, 1978) and field
observations (Schofield, 1991).
Gender, race and age are basic categories that are activated in the course of social
perception (Brewer, 1988; Brewer & Kramer, 1985; Fiske & Neuberg, 1988; Messick &
Mackie, 1989). Most research supporting the in-group bias in various cultures has focused on
perceptions between members of different ethnic groups. This includes mutual perceptions of
Jews and Arabs in Israel (Bizman & Amir, 1984), Hispanics and Anglos in the United States
(Triandis et. al., 1982) , Hindus and Muslims in India (Ghosh, Kumar & Tripathi, 1992) and
Chinese and Malays in Southeast Asia (Hewstone & Ward, 1985). All these studies reveal a consistent preference for in-group over out-group members. Attributions concerning in-group members were more favorable than those regarding out-group members.
While the above-mentioned studies were based on attributions, behaviors in multi-ethnic
settings have been the focus of several investigations in racially desegregated schools in the
United States. Epstein (1983) reports that students tend to prefer peers who are more similar to themselves in gender, ethnicity, age and grade in school. Race and gender were found to be
important grouping criteria in determining seating patterns in school cafeterias in that there
was a general preference to associate with in-group members (Schofield & Sagar, 1977;
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 4
Zisman & Wilson, 1992). These findings have also emerged from observations in
task-oriented settings where there is more cross-race interaction (Schofield & Francis, 1982).
While there is a large amount of evidence for in-group favoritism, the influence of
group-status can sometimes weaken the effect. Research on interethnic acceptance has, in
some instances, revealed asymmetric preference in that the majority, higher-status group
exhibits greater in-group preference compared to minority, lower-status groups who may
actually prefer the out-group (Clark & Clark, 1958; Schwarzwald & Amir 1984; Brand, Ruiz
& Padilla, 1974). Age effects have also exhibited this asymmetry. McLellan and McKelvie
(1993) report that perceived attractiveness of faces declined with age. Younger faces were
consistently preferredby raters across various age-groups.
The focus of this study is to examine the role of gender, ethnicity and age in intergroup
behavior in a naturalistic setting. Bus commuters often have a choice of sitting next to one of several strangers. We examine these choices as a function of the gender, ethnicity and age of
the observed commuters. Compared to previous studies, the present setting has certain
distinct advantages. Given that choices are made among strangers, individuating information is unlikely to dilute the salient categorizations based on gender, ethnicity and age. There are
no lasting consequences for commuters involved in these short-lived interactions. These
factors make the situation relatively unconstrained. Commuters are likely to perceive each
other in terms of their group identities and their choices may reflect underlying attitudes
towards these groups. Allgeier and Byrne (1973) report findings that link attitudinal attraction positively to physical proximity.
Consistent with previous research, we expect to find in-group preference for both males
and females. In the case of ethnicity, in-group preference is likely to be stronger for the majority group. For age, most reported effects have the elderly as the main focus and are not
of direct relevance to the present sample (c.f., Webb, Delaney & Young, 1989). Therefore,
we expect age effects to emerge in one of two ways. If in-group preference is pronounced,
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 5
commuters should prefer to sit next to members of their age group. Alternatively, young persons may be preferred by commuters in all age-groups.
The observations were made in public buses in the city-state of Singapore. The sex ratio
in Singapore is very evenly balanced. Chinese constitute 78% of the Singapore population;
14% are Malay, 7% are Indian and the remainder is made up of Caucasians, Eurasians and
others (Census of Population 1990, 1991). These ethnic categories are socially identifiable groups characterized by a combination of cultural and physical traits (Chiew, 1983).
Although Singapore is a rapidly ageing society, it is still quite youthful with a median age of
about 30 years (Cheung & Vasoo, 1992). Public buses are the single most popular form of
transportation in Singapore and are used daily by 56% of the workforce and an even greater proportion of the nonworking population.
Sixty eight final-year undergraduates (50 females and 18 males) enrolled in a statistics course served as observers of bus commuters' behavior. Fifty nine observers were ethnic
Chinese, and the remainder of the group was composed of 2 Malays, 5 Indians and 2
Eurasians. The observations were made in the course of commuting on public buses. The majority of seats in Singaporean public buses accommodate two persons. The seats are
arranged in pairs such that two seats constitute a single row in the bus. Observations were
made on 117 distinct bus services; the university bus services were excluded as they were
primarily used by students and not representative of the general commuter population. Each
student recorded about 20 observations. A total of 1294 observations were collected during a
period of about three weeks in September-October 1992.
In the observational scenario, two strangers occupied window seats on the same row in
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 6
the bus. The two aisle seats were unoccupied; observers were told to ignore cases in which the aisle seat was not available due to any reason (for example, if a person stretches out or keeps objects on the aisle seat). We assume that both aisle seats were equally available for
selection by other commuters. The gender, ethnicity (Chinese. Malay. Indian, Caucasian and
Other were used as categories) and estimated age of the two window commuters and the first
person who sat on either one of the two aisle seats were recorded. Each valid observation thus
consisted of the characteristics of three targets: the chooser (occupying the aisle seat), the
accepted commuter (next to the chooser) and the rejected commuter (in the other window
Fifty five observations that included commuters in the Caucasian or Other ethnic
categories were discarded and the remaining 1239 cases with the characteristics of 3717
commuters (1842 males and 1875 females) formed the basis for subsequent analyses. There were 2901 Chinese, 459 Malays and 357 Indians in the sample. Estimated age, a continuous
variable, was transformed into a ordinal variable with three levels. The first age group
consisted of commuters estimated to be less than 21 years old (n = 1115, M = 17.90, SD =
2.55), the second was made up of people in the 21 to 30 age range (n = 1508, M = 25.48, SD
= 3.06) and the third category included commuters estimated to be older than 30 years (n =
1094, M = 43.43, SD = 8.99).
The analysis of gender, ethnicity and age effects were carried out separately. In each
case, a 3-way table, crossing the characteristics of the chooser with the characteristics of the
accepted and the rejected commuters, formed the basis for each analysis. Only cases in which the accepted and rejected differed on the concerned variable are considered to be relevant as
they reveal a direct effect of the dimension on the chooser's behavior. These cases can be
classified into two major categories. In the first, the acceptedcommuter and chooser share the
same characteristic while in the second, it is the rejected commuter who resembles the
chooser. If there is no intergroupbias, the frequency of observations in both categories should
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 7
each be close to 50% of the total number of relevant observations.
Therefore, the null
hypothesis of no intergroup bias implies that these probabilities would be 0.5. The symbol P
is used to represent the proportion of in-group preferences and n is the number of relevant
observations. All p. values, indicating the significance of the deviation of P from 0.5, are
For analyzing the independent effects of gender, a 3-way table crossing the gender of the
chooser with the gender of the accepted and rejected was constructed (see Table 1). Gender is signified by M (male) or F (female) and the subscripts c, a and r refer to the chooser, accepted and rejected. The rows in the tables indicate the gender of the chooser while the columns contain the possible combinations of the gender of the accepted and rejected. The tables have
been organized so that comparisons within each row are made across adjacent columns. Only
columns MaJFr and Fa_Mr are relevant as they include cases in which the accepted and
rejected were not of the same gender.
Insert Table 1 about here
Table 1 shows that male choosers prefer males over females (n = 328, P = 0.564, z = 2.37, p. < .02) while female choosers display even stronger preference for females over males
(n = 332, P = 0.819, z= 11.69 ,p.< .001).
It is of interest to test if these gender effects are consistent across the three ethnic and age
groups. The corresponding six tables are not presented in this paper but the contrasted cell
frequencies can be derived from n and P.
Females in all three ethnic groups as well as the three age groups exhibit strong in-group
preference. Chinese females show strong preference for females over males (n = 273, P=
0.821, 2 = 10.65, p. < .001); a similar trend is evident for Malay females (n = 41, P = 0.854,
z = 4.69, p. < .001) and Indian female choosers (n = 18, P = 0.722, z = 2.12, p. < .05). At
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 8
Al, female choosers prefer females to males strongly (n = 112, £ = 0.813, z = 6.71, p. < .001);
this is true for females in age category A2 (n = 137, £ = 0.854, z = 8.37, p. < .001) as well as
older females in A3 (n = 83, P = 0.771, z = 5.05, £ < .001).
Chinese and Malay males show moderate to weak preference for males over females (n =
244, £ = 0.566, z = 2.11, p < .05; and n = 42, £ = 0.595, z, = 1.39, p. > .15 respectively)
whereas Indian males exhibit no such preference (n = 42,
£ = 0.524, z = 0.46, n.s.). Only
younger males at Al prefer males over females (n = 90, P = 0.656, z = 3.06, p. < .01). At A2
there is no evidence for such preference (n = 141, P = 0.504, z = 0.17, n.s.) while there is
weak preference exhibited by older males in A3 (n = 97, £ = 0.567, z. = 1-42, p. >. 1).
Insert Table 2 about here
In Table 2, the ethnicity of the chooser is crossed with the ethnicity of the accepted and rejected. Ethnicity is indicated by CH (Chinese), ML (Malay) and IN (Indian). The results
show that Chinese choosers prefer Chinese commuters over both Malays (n = 171, £ =. 0.579,
z = 2.14 , p < .05) and Indians (n = 154, £ = 0.675, z = 4.43 , p. < .001).
choosers appear to exhibit in-group preference over the Chinese, this effect does not reach
significance (n = 45, £ = 0.60, z = 1.49 , p > .1). There are insufficient observations to assess
in-group preference vis-a-vis the Indians. For Indian choosers, in-group preference over the
Chinese fails to reach significance (n = 25, £ = 0.560, z = 0.8, n.s.) and there were very few
observations to test in-group preference over the Malays.. Even if Indian and Malay choosers are grouped together and contrasted with the majority Chinese out-group, there is only weak
evidence for in-group preference (n = 70, £ = 0.586, z = 1.55, p > .1).
We will proceed to examine ethnicity effects for Chinese choosers of different gender
groups. The results suggest that Chinese females exhibit stronger ethnicity effects than
Chinese males. Chinese males show little in-group preference over Malays (n = 73, £ = 0.556,
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 9
S = 1.06 , p > .25) whereas Chinese females clearly prefer Chinese commuters over the Malay out-group (n = 99, £ = 0.596, z = 2.01 , e < 05). Both Chinese males and Chinese females strongly favor Chinese over Indian commuters (n = 67, £ = 0.612, z = 1.96 , e < 05; and n =
87, E = 0.724, z = 4.29 , p. < .001, respectively). The ethnicity effects at various age groups show that for the Malay out-group, Chinese
choosers exhibit in-group preference primarily at the two older age categories. In-group preference for Chinese choosers vis-a-vis the Indian out-group is present at all three age groups. At Al, Chinese choosers show no in-group preference over Malays (n = 61, £ =
0.541, g = 0.77 , n.s.) but at A2 and A3 Chinese choosers show moderate preference for Chinese over Malay commuters (n = 64, £ = 0.609, z = 1.88 , p < 06; and n = 46, £ = 0.587, z = 1.33, e > .15, respectively). Chinese choosers at all age groups clearly prefer themselves
over Indian commuters (n = 42, ? = 0.691, z = 2.62 , p < 01 for Al, n = 66, E = 0.656, z =
2.63 , e < -01 for A2 and n = 48, £ = 0.688, z = 2.74, e < .01 for A3). There is little difference between males and females for Malay and Indian choosers with
regard to ethnicity effects vis-a-vis the majority Chinese out-group and, like the overall pattern
for Malay and Indian choosers, we fail to reject the null hypothesis of no preference. Malay
choosers at Al prefer Malay commuters over the majority Chinese out-group (n = 20, £ =
0.700, z = 2.01 , e < -05) as do Malay choosers at A3 (n = 11, £ = 0.727, z = 1.81, e < 07)
and unlike Malay choosers at A2 who show nonsignificant out-group preference (n = 14,£ = 0.357, z = -1.34, p > -15): Due to the small number of observations, we do not present tests
for Indian choosers belonging to different age groups.
Insert Table 3 about here
In Table 3, the age categories of the chooser are crossed with the age categories of the
accepted and rejected. Overall, the results show a clear preference for younger commuters.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 10
Members in the youngest age-group, Al, show in-group preference over both A2 (n = 83, ? =
0.602, z = 1.98 , e < 05) and A3 (n = 75, £ = 0.640, z = 2.54 , e < 02). Those in the middle
category, A2, shows no preference for in-group members over either Al (n = 101, E = 0.495,
z =-0.18, n.s.) or A3 commuters (n = 123, ? = 0.561, z = 1.44, p > .1); however A2 choosers
do prefer the younger Al to older A3 commuters (n = 79, £ = 0.709, z = 3.83, p < 001) Commuters in the oldest age-group, A3, show out-group preference for both Al (n = 60, E =
0.300, z = -3.22, e<002) and A2 (n = 88, ? = 0.409, z = -1.81, e<07). They also prefer
sitting next to a younger Al member rather than next to someone from the A2 group (£ =
0.673, z = 2.63, p<-01).
At all three age levels, it appears that females display stronger age effects than males.
Young male choosers in A1 do not prefer their age-group to A2 (n = 31, £ = 0.484, z =
-0.36, n.s.) but do show some in-group preference over commuters in A3 (n = 49, E = 0.612, z = 1.71, e < 09). On the other hand, young females in Al show in-group preference over both A2 (n = 52, £ = 0.673, z = 2.63, e < .01) and A3 commuters (n = 26, £ = 0.692, z =
2.16, e < .05). Males in the A2 group do not prefer their group over Al (n = 52, E = 0.557, z
= 0.97 , n.s.) and neither do they show any preference vis-a-vis older A3 members (n = 49,
£ = 0.510, z = 0.29, n.s.). A2 females display nonsignificant out-group preference for Al
commuters (n = 49, P = 0.429, z = -1.14, p > .25) but appear to reject A3 members (n = 74, £
= 0.595, z = 1.75, p < .08). Older male commuters in A3 show little out-group preference for
bothAl (n = 27,E = 0.407, z =-1.15,£>-25)andA2members(n = 48,£ = 0.417, z = -1.30
, E > .15). A3 females show strong out-group preference for Al commuters (n = 33, ? =
0.212, z = -3.48, e < 001) but nonsignificant out-group preference for A2 commuters (n = 40,
E = 0.400, z = -1.42, e>15).
Age effects could not be ascertained separately for Malay and Indian choosers due to the small number of observations. The pattern of results for Chinese choosers closely follows the
overall age effects reported above.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 11
Standardized residuals of uncontrasted cells
All the previous effects were based on comparisons of observations in which the accepted
and rejected differed on the relevant dimension. We now turn our attention to the last two
columns of Table 1 and last three columns of Tables 2 and 3 wherein the accepted and
rejected have identical values on gender, ethnicity and age respectively. Expected frequencies for these cells are based on multiplying the row and column marginals of the complete tables
and dividing by the total number of observations. The difference between the observed and
expected frequency divided by the square root of the expected frequency provides an estimate
of the standardized residual (Hays, 1994, p. 860). Large positive or negative residuals are
unexpected and require substantive interpretation.
The two cells in the Ma_Mr column in Table 1 yielded nonsignificant residuals. In sharp
contrast, the second column, in which both window seats were occupied by females, revealed
significant residuals. Male choosers tend not to choose a seat in this scenario leading to their
underrepresentation in these observations (n = 89, z = -3.40, p < .001). Not surprisingly, female choosers capitalize by occupying more than their "fair" share of such seats (n = 186, z
= 3.16, e<01).
All residuals in the last two columns ofTable 2 fail to reach significance. However when
two Chinese commuters occupy the window seats (CHa_CHr), frequencies of Malay (n = 63,
z = -2.15, p < .05) and Indian (n = 38, z = -2.23, e < -05) choosers are less than the
frequencies expected on the basis of pure chance. Chinese choosers are not overrepresented
in this scenario (n = 625, z = 1.49, £>•!)•
If both window seats were occupied by commuters from a particular age group, the aisle
seat was more likely to be occupied by a member of the same age-group than would be expected on the basis of chance alone. When the window seats were occupied by people in
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 12
age group Al (see Table 3), the first aisle seat was more readily occupied by Al persons (n =
73, z = 4.60, E<001)thanbyA2 (n = 40, z = -2.04, e<05) or A3 (n = 20, z = -2.54,
E < .05) choosers. Al commuters were also less likely to choose when both window seats were occupied by A2 (n = 54, z = -2.26, e < 05) or A3 (n = 23, z = -2.76, e < 01)
commuters. A2 choosers are also more likely to act, compared to Al and A3 choosers, when
both window seats are occupied by A2 commuters (n = 122, g = 2.82, p < .01). Similarly,
A3 choosers are more likely to occupy an empty aisle seat, compared to Al and A2 choosers,
when both window seats were occupied by older A3 commuters (n = 54, s = 3.62, p < .001).
Characteristics of choosers, accepted and rejected commuters
The distributions of choosers, accepted and rejected commuters by gender, ethnicity and
age are presented in Tables 4, 5 and 6 respectively. The following analysis is directed at
detecting groups that are under or overrepresented in each of the three tables. We assume that
frequencies, averaged across all three tables, provide a reasonable estimate of the
corresponding population values and are treated as expected values. It should be noted that
these estimates are not based on a random sample of the general populationof commuters as it
systematically excludes certain commuter categories (those who choose not to sit and those
who eventually occupy the second aisle seat). Standardized residuals for each cell are computed as described in the previous section.
Insert Tables 4, 5 and 6 about here
Among choosers, young (Al) Malay females are overrepresented (z = 2.47, p < .02)
whereas older (A3) Chinese and Indian males are underrepresented (z = -2.30, p < .05; and z
= -2.28, e < -05 respectively). All other groups do not deviate significantly from the expected
For the accepted commuters, only young Chinese females ( z = 4.44, e < 001) are
overrepresented. All other groups do not depart significantly from the expected frequencies.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 13
In the rejected distribution, however, we find that older (A3) Chinese, Malay and Indian males
are overrepresented (2 = 3.70,
p < .001; z = 2.17, e < 05; and z = 2.52,
e < 02
respectively) as are Indian males in the A2 age group ( z = 2.63, p < .01). In sharp contrast,
we find that young Chinese and Malay females ( z = -4.99, p < .001; and 2 = -2.19, e < 05
respectively) along with Chinese females from the second age group (2 = -2.97, p < .01) are
underrepresented in the rejected commuters distribution.
Broadly speaking, evidence for in-group preference was found with respect to gender and
ethnicity whereas age effects revealed preference for younger persons. These trends, together
with other findings, are elaborated below. As was hypothesized, both males and females are more likely to sit with a same-sex
commuter, in direct preference to a commuter from the opposite gender. This trend was both stronger and more consistent for female choosers. It appears that there is a strong tendency
for females not to actively choose to sit next to a man, rejecting a woman commuter in the
process. It should be noted, as shown in the analyses of uncontrasted cells, that when males
occupy both window seats, female choosers are not underrepresented. When an active choice has to be made, females avoid sitting next to males. However they often sit next to males
when choosing between two male window commuters.
Thus, the norm governing female
choice behavior is strongly biased against sitting next to males only when
preferences are made.
Male preferences contrast strikingly with female norms. Firstly, in gender-based choices,
in-group preference for males is considerably weaker than that for females given that only
males in the youngest age group prefer males over females. In sharp contrast, when both
window seats are occupied by females, male choosers are severely underrepresented (females
are overrepresented in this scenario). It might be argued that, to avoid proximity to males,
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 14
females actively look for and are very successful in obtaining such seats at the expense of
male choosers. While this may be a partial explanation, we have seen that females do not
mind sitting next to one of two males, suggesting that female choosers do not invariably avoid males. This presents the additional possibility that, for reasons which remain unclear, males
hesitate to sit in these circumstances, preferring to look elsewhere or stand in the bus. For ethnicity, we had predicted stronger in-group preference for the Chinese majority.
Chinese choosers exhibit consistent in-group preference over Indian commuters. Preference
over Malays was only present for the two older age groups of Chinese choosers.
preference based on ethnicity is more strongly and consistently exhibited by Chinese females than by Chinese males. This result agrees with Schofield and Sagar"s (1977) observation that
girls showed more racial aggregation than boys.
While there is some evidence for in-group preference for Malays over Chinese, it is
inconsistent. There is no evidence for in-group preference among Indian choosers vis-a-vis
the Chinese. When the Malay and Indian choosers were combined, there is no significant
evidence for in-group preference exhibited by the minorities over the majority group.
Although evidence for in-group preference among the minority groups is weak, it should be admitted that larger samples with greater power are required to address this issue definitively.
We now discuss these results with specific reference to the Singaporean context.
Singapore promotes ethnic diversity and disavows cultural assimilation. Social
institutions are desegregated and the government has made conscious efforts to achieve this
structural integration. Public housing in Singapore provides accommodation for the vast
majority of its citizens and policies have sought to rninimize the development of enclaves
based on ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, Chiew (1983) has reported that the
Chinese in Singapore had the lowest rates of structural integration and interethnic interaction;
the Indians had the highest rates and the Malays were in the middle. He attributes this asymmetry in majority-minority relations to the fact that minorities have more opportunities to
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 15
interact with the majority group whereas it is not uncommon for majority group members to
have little or no interaction with minorities (Williams, 1964). It should be stressed that the the present study controlled for differences in such opportunities. We suggest that majority
group members have fewer interethnic interactions and this, in turn, provides the foundations
for asymmetry in in-group preference. Hewstone and Ward (1985) found that 80% of a sample of Chinese Singaporean males
chose, from a group of 17 positive and negative traits, the trait industrious as describing
themselves and 53% of the sample characterized the Malay out-group as slovenly. None of
the other traits were selected by a significant majority of the sample. Using a causal
attribution paradigm in the same paper, they found no evidence for in-group preference
among the Chinese. Hewstone and Ward concluded that the Chinese in Singapore have weak
stereotypes and fail to show positive in-group preference. It is possible that these differences
were, in part, due to the university student sample used in their study; this sample is considerably less diverse than that used by the present study. Even so, there is some evidence
for the existence of favorable in-group attitudes among Singaporean Chinese students. Tan
(1993) had Singaporean Chinese students estimate the percentage of Chinese, Malays and Indians who were characterized by traits representing ten personality domains (Peabody,
1987). Powerful in-group biases emerged in the domains of conscientiousness, intelligence & ability, assertiveness and impulse control (F(2,56)= 41.5, 23.6,15.9 and 10.9 respectively). Age effects are consistent, with younger commuters being preferred by members in all
age groups. Choosers in the youngest age group are more likely to sit next to an in-group
member than next to commuters from the two older groups. These choosers also prefer
commuters in the second age category to those in the oldest group. Choosers in the second
age group show no direct in-group preference; however they do prefer the youngest commuters to commuters in the third age group. Choosers in the oldest group show consistent
out-group preference for younger commuters; they also prefer commuters from the first age
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 16
group to those from the second age group. Like the findings on gender and ethnicity, females
display stronger age effects than male choosers. When both window commuters are from the
same age group, the first person to sit next to one of them is more likely to be from the same
age category than from another age group. While preference for youth is evident when a
commuter chooses between two people from different age groups, in-group attraction emerges
when no such choice is presented.
Given that the various gender, ethnicity and age effects that were assessed separately, we
can determine their combined influence by examining the composition of commuters who are
accepted and rejected. Young Chinese females are most likely to have someone sit next to
them. Male commuters in the oldest age group, along with Indian males in the second age
group are most likely to experience rejection. In sharp contrast, rejection is least likely for
young Chinese and Malay females as well as Chinese females in the second age group. These
patterns are consistent with the conclusion drawn by Heslin and Boss (1980) that attraction
and not status (males and older people have higher status) is the major determinant of
Two trends emerge across the various analyses. Compared to males, female choosers exhibit clearer behavioral norms context as evidenced by stronger gender, ethnicity and age
effects. The choice behavior for males is less predictable. Second, contrasting behavior
patterns were found across two types of scenarios: in one, the two window commuters
differed on a given aspect while in the other there was no difference. It seems that different
norms are activated by these two scenarios and cause variation in behavior. Cialdini and his
colleagues have shown the importance of the setting in activating dormant, injunctive norms
relevant to littering behavior (Cialdini, Reno & Kallgren, 1990; Reno, Cialdini & Kallgren,
1993). More work is required to fully understand the role of the setting in activating norms relevant to the present study.
One criticism of the present study is that the observations were made subjectively,
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 17
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gender is likely to be extremely accurate, it is possible that some misjudgments occurred in the
case of ethnicity and age. Given that age was split into three ordinal categories, random
misclassifications are likely to be minimized. In the case of ethnicity, while the three groups
have distinctive prototypes, there is the possibility for systematic misclassification as the Malays are closer to the Chinese in their physiognomy than are the Indians who are least
likely to be misclassified.
Our interest is to study preference as a function of perceived
characteristics. If there are systematic biases in the perceptions of the observers, similar biases
ought to exist for the commuters and therefore are not likely to invalidate the findings.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 18
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Table 1: Gender Effects
Table 2: Ethnicity Effects
CHa_MLr MLa_CHr CHaJNr INa_CHr MLaJNr INa_MLr CHa_CHr MLa_MLr INaJNr
Table 3: Age Effects
Ala_A2r A2a_Alr Ala_A3r A3a_Alr A2a_A3r A3a_A2r Ala_Alr A2a_A2r
Gender, Ethnicity, and Age Preferences 22
Table 4: Chooser Distribution
Table 5: Accented Distribution
Table 6: Rejected Distribution
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