Gender differences in paid performance under competition have been found in many laboratory-based experiments, and it has been suggested that these may arise because men and women respond differently to psychological pressure in competitive environments. A recent IZA discussion paper by Alison Booth and Patrick Nolen explores these gender differences further in a laboratory experiment with 444 subjects.
The experiment comprised four distinct competitive situations: (i) the standard tournament game where the subject competes with three other individuals and the winner takes all; (ii) an anonymized competition in which an individual competes against an imposed production target and is paid only if s/he exceeds it; (iii) a ‘personified’ competition where an individual competes against a target based on the previous performance of one anonymized person of unknown gender; and (iv) a ‘gendered’ competition where an individual competes against a target based on the previous performance of one anonymized person whose gender is known.
Women do not respond to changing competitive pressure
The analysis shows that only men respond to pressure differently in each situation, whereas women responded the same to pressure no matter the situation. Moreover, the personified target caused men to increase performance more than under an anonymized target and, when the gender of the person associated with the target was revealed, men worked even harder to outperform a woman but strove only to equal the target set by a male.
In other words, while women shy away from competition, once in a competitive environment their performance is not worsened, while men will respond positively. Therefore, the authors conclude that policies to raise the share of females in competitive environments could increase overall output and productivity.