Wednesday, June 9, 2021

We advance the hypothesis that women are as competitive as men once the incentive for winning includes factors that matter to women

Option to Cooperate Increases Women’s Competitiveness and Closes the Gender Gap. Alessandra Cassar, Mary L. Rigdon. Forthcoming: Evolution and Human Behavior, April 19, 2021.

Abstract. We advance the hypothesis that women are as competitive as men once the incentive for winning includes factors that matter to women. Allowing winners an opportunity to share some of their winnings with the low performers has gendered consequences for competitive behavior. We ground our work in an evolutionary framework in which winning competitions brings asymmetric benefits and costs to men and women. In the new environment, the potential to share some of the rewards from competition with others may afford women the benefit of reaping competitive gains without incurring some of its potential costs. An experiment (N = 438 in an online convenience sample of US adults) supports our hypothesis: a 26% gender gap in performance vanishes once a sharing option is included to an otherwise identical winner-take-all incentive scheme. Besides providing a novel experiment that challenges the paradigm that women are not as motivated to compete as men, our work proposes some suggestions for policy: including socially-oriented rewards to contracts may offer a novel tool to close the persistent labor market gender gap.

6 Discussion

We posit that having the availability of an option to share may incentivize women to compete, although most of the laboratory experiments prevent it by design. Our work demonstrates that the incentive structure critically affects what level of competitive performance is observed. The theoretical expectation that males are more competitive than females has produced laboratory tools fine-tuned to record a competitiveness trait as it gets expressed in males, but not necessarily in females, whose motivation to compete would get under-estimated when factors that matter to women are not included in the experiment. Most of the experimental literature focuses on winner-take-all contests, as they appear predominant in the economy. Our work suggests that under these remarkably exclusionary environments, women display a lower desire to compete, but, different incentive structures could be put in place to reduce such gaps. Our results demonstrate that women’s competitiveness gets expressed in different ways and reacts to different rewards. Furthermore, the classic winner-take-all environments commonly used may not even resemble real life competitive situations necessarily better than the modified design with the sharing option we advance here: CEOs compete for their companies’ shareholders (who are getting most of the benefits from the business’ success); prime ministers and politicians compete for the well-being of their constituencies and their countries. So many of the leadership positions in the economy would be better represented as competitions on behalf of a group. Experiments that include this component tend to find no gap in competitiveness. Still, we agree that many positions of power are gained mainly for exclusionary gains and, in these environments, women may indeed be turned off by the openly competitive nature and non-egalitarian distribution of the gains. It is in these work environments where we expect to see that a change of the incentives structure may encourage 25more women to enter and stay. Some companies (e.g. in Silicon Valley) are already starting to adopt compensation schemes based on teams’ performance rather than individual prizes. Such shifts may avoid distortions (by aligning personal incentives with the company’s goals) and, in addition, may encourage more women to compete. A lower female competitiveness has been found in many experiments around the world. Yet, the most recent cross-cultural studies and meta-analysis seem to suggest that such sex differences tend to be more pronounced in individualistic and gender-egalitarian societies rather than in more traditional societies at lower levels of economic development. Once greater availability of material and social resources removes the gender-neutral goal of subsistence, gender-specific ambitions and desires may emerge and more gender-equal access to resources may allow women and men to express preferences independently from each other (Giudice, 2015). Interestingly, gendered differences in preferences such as risk, patience, altruism, positive and negative reciprocity, and trust have also been found to be positively associated with economic development as well as societal gender equality (Falk & Hermle, 2018). If it is confirmed that sex preferences vary even more at higher levels of development, a change in labor market incentives structure appears even more appealing as option. The gender stereotype that women are less competitive or less economically driven is costly, both to individual women who may be under-placed and under-paid and to society at large, erroneously looking disproportionately to men for leadership (Eagly et al., 1992; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Our work demonstrates that equal-seeming incentives can be structured differently — by being socially-oriented — and women respond by increasing performance. This result has important policy implications, since understanding these differences is key for designing institutional mechanisms and contracts that promote the reduction of inequalities; for example by modifying individual bonuses to include resource to be allocated to team members for reaching communal goals, by integrating salaries with benefits for children (e.g. vouchers for education), by awarding top employees with decision power over a company’s charitable contributions, and by focusing on the positive effects of one’s work for a desired group or valuable cause. In conclusion, our study is at the intersection of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, and biology and our findings may be of interest to a broad interdisciplinary scientific audience. Despite Darwin’s recognition of the importance of intra-sexual competition, the topic of female competitiveness has been largely ignored, until recently. Economists, looking for why women rarely reach top jobs, have accumulated a large body of experimental evidence pointing to women’s lower desire to compete; 26hence, the argument is that they self-select into less prominent and lower paying positions. Our experimental findings support the idea that women will compete as much as men once we substitute the winner-take-all incentives with a socially oriented option. Our work contributes a novel result to the much-debated topic of the gender wage gap, offering a different interpretation to the classic results, one for which the alleged gender differences in competitiveness cannot be appealed to. 

No comments:

Post a Comment