Study casts doubt on theory that women are not as competitive as men – ScienceDaily

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As researchers study the reasons for the persistent gender wage gap in the United States, one possible explanation that has emerged over the past decade or so is that women may be less competitive than men and are therefore ignored for higher-ranking roles with higher salaries.

But a new study suggests it’s probably not that simple. Researchers have found that women compete at the same pace as men, when they have the opportunity to share their winnings with losers.

The study, led by Mary L. Rigdon, associate director of the UArizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, and Alessandra Cassar, professor of economics at the University of San Francisco, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rigdon’s research involves studying how market structure, information, and incentives influence behavior. Her work over the past 20 years has explored questions on trust, reciprocity, competition, altruism, cheating and more, with a particular focus on gender differences, particularly the wage gap between the sexes.

“If we are to finally close the gender pay gap, then we need to understand the sources of it – as well as the solutions and cures,” said Rigdon, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Political Economy and Moral Sciences at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

In 2021, women will earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, Rigdon said, which means women are working almost three months longer to receive the same pay. This statistic does not take into account certain characteristics, such as an employee’s age, experience or level of education.

But even taking those characteristics into account, women are still paid around 98 cents for every dollar men earn, Rigdon said. In other words, a woman is paid 2% less than a man with the same qualifications.

Economists have considered a few possible explanations for this, Rigdon said. One theory, known as the “human capital explanation,” suggests that there are gender differences in certain skills, leading women to lower paying careers. Another theory – perhaps the most widely regarded – is patent discrimination.

Rigdon and Cassar focused on the relatively new theory that women are less competitive and less willing to take risks than men.

But if women were more reluctant to compete, then they would occupy fewer high-level positions at the top of big companies, and that’s not the trend that has taken shape in recent years, Rigdon said. Women make up about 8% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. While this number is low overall, it is a record high.

“We thought women should be as competitive as men, but they just show it differently, so we wanted to try to understand that story and demonstrate that it is,” said Rigdon. “Because then it’s a very different story about the gender pay gap.”

Rigdon and Cassar randomly assigned 238 participants – split almost equally by gender – to two different groups for the study. Participants from each of these two groups were then randomly assigned to subgroups of four.

For all participants, the first round of the study was the same: each one had to look at arrays of 12 three-digit numbers with two decimal places and find the two numbers that add to 10. Participants had to solve as many tables as there are. possible. possible – up to 20 – in two minutes. Each participant was paid $ 2 for each table resolved in the first round.

In the second round, participants were asked to do the same task, but the two groups were given different prompts. In the first group, the two participants from each four-person team who solved the most tables won $ 4 per table solved, while their other two team members received nothing. In the other group, the top two players from each four-person team also won $ 4 per table, but they had the right to decide how much of the prize to share with one of the lower performing participants.

In the third round, all participants were allowed to choose their preferred payment method from the two previous rounds. For half of the study participants, that meant a choice between guaranteed $ 2 per correct table, or potentially $ 4 per correct table if they became one of the top two players in their four-person subgroup. For the other half of the participants, the choice was $ 2 per correct table, or $ 4 per correct table for the top two players with the option to split the winnings with one of the losing participants.

The number of women who chose the competitive option almost doubled when they were given the opportunity to share their earnings; around 60% chose to compete under this option, while only 35% chose to compete in the win-win version of the tournament.

About 51% of the men in the study chose the win-win option and 52.5% chose the format that allowed for sharing with the losers.

Rigdon said she and Cassar have a few theories as to why women are more likely to compete when they can share the winnings. One suggests that participants are simply interested in controlling how the earnings are distributed among other participants.

Another theory that has emerged among evolutionary psychologists, Rigdon said, suggests that female participants may be inclined to tone down bad feelings with competition losers.

“We really have to ask ourselves what about this social incentive that drives women to compete. We think it recognizes the different costs and benefits that come with your different biological and cultural constraints,” she said. . “But at the end of the day, I think we still have this question.”

Rigdon and Cassar are currently developing an experiment that gets to the heart of this question, Rigdon said.

Researchers are careful not to propose policies for American companies based on a line of research that still poses many questions. But, said Rigdon, the latest finding suggests that companies would do well to engage in more socially responsible activity.

“Maybe you will attract a different set of candidates for your CEO or board positions,” she said. “Women might be more attracted to positions where there is this social component that is not there in more traditional, incentive-based companies, where it’s CEO bonuses.”

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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