Women are NOT less competitive than men but just prefer to enter games when they can share the winnings, study finds

  • Researchers had small groups of men and women ‘compete’ in maths challenges 
  • They could opt for a prize if correct or larger prize if they are a top performer
  • There was also an option of a top performer prize to share with group mates
  • Women were more likely to go for gold if they could share their winnings 

Women are just as competitive as men, according to a study, that found they enter  competitions at the same rate as men, but are more likely to share their winnings.

Putting volunteers in groups and asking them to complete a series of maths problems in return for a reward helped researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson to study gender differences in relation to competition.

The 238 participants were evenly split between men and women, and had the option of choosing a guaranteed prize for a correct result, a larger prize if they were a top performer, or a larger prize with the option to share the winnings with the losers.

If given the chance to share their winnings, 60 per cent of women opted for competition, whereas only 35 per cent decided to compete if they won the lot. 

In contrast, 51 per cent of men opted for the winner-take-all option, compared to 52.5 per cent of men going for gold if they got to share their reward with the losers.

Researchers say that female participants may be more interested in controlling the way the winnings are dived up among the other participants than the men.

Women are just as competitive as men, according to a study, that found they enter competitions at the same rate as men, but are more likely to share their winnings. Stock image

HOW THE EXPERIMENT WORKED 

To demonstrate this, the researchers randomly assigned 238 men and women and split them into two groups, according to their gender.

Participants in each group were then randomly assigned to four-person subgroups.

For all participants, the first round of the study was the same: Each individual was asked to look at tables of 12 three-digit with two decimal places and find the two numbers that add to ten.

The participants were then asked to solve as many tables as possible – up to 20 – in two minutes. Each participant was paid two dollars for every table they solved in the first round.

In the second round, the participants were asked to do the same task, but the two groups were incentivised differently.

In the first group, the two participants in each four-person team who solved the most tables earned four dollars per table solved, while their other two team members were given nothing.

In the other group, the top two performers of each four-person team also earned four dollars per table, but they had the right to decide how much of the prize money to share with one of the lower performing participants.

In the third round, all the participants were allowed to choose which payment scheme they preferred from the two previous rounds.

For half the study participants, this meant a choice between a guaranteed two dollars per correct table, or potentially four dollars per correct table, if they became one of the top two performers in their four-person subgroup.

For the other half of the participants, the choice was two dollars per correct table or four dollars per correct table for the top-two performers with the option to share the winnings with one of the losing participants.

Mary Rigdon, associate director of the Arizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, wanted to explore the ‘relatively new theory’ that women are less competitive and less willing to take risks than men. 

It was part of a wider series of work into how market structure, information and incentives impact behaviour, particularly around gender.

Rigdon, alongside colleague Alessandra Cassar, a Professor of economics at the University of San Francisco, have been examining the gender pay gap.

Professor Rigdon said: ‘If we’re finally going to close the gender pay gap, then we have to understand the sources of it – and also solutions and remedies for it.

‘In 2021, women will earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, meaning women work nearly three months extra to receive the same amount of pay.

‘This statistic does not account for certain characteristics, such as an employee’s age, experience or level of education.

‘But even when considering those characteristics, women are still paid about 98 cents for every dollar earned by men.

‘In other words, a woman is paid two percent less than a man with the same qualifications.’

There are a number of theories that attempt to explain this gap, including the ‘human capital explanation’ that suggests there are gender differences in certain skills, leading women to careers that pay less.

Other theories include basic discrimination against women in the workforce, and a relatively recent idea, that women are less competitive than men.

Professor Rigdon worked with Professor Cassar to zero in on this idea, that also posits that women are less willing to take risks than men.

Professor Rigdon explained: ‘But if women were more reluctant to compete, then they would occupy fewer high-ranking positions at the tops of major companies, and that’s not the trend that’s taken shape over the last several years.

‘Women make up about eight per cent of the CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. While that number is low overall, it’s a record high.

‘We thought it must be the case that women are as competitive as men, but they just exhibit it differently, so we wanted to try to get at that story and demonstrate that that is the case.

‘Because that’s then a very different story about the gender wage gap.’

To demonstrate this, the researchers randomly assigned 238 men and women and split them into two groups, according to their gender.

Participants in each group were then randomly assigned to four-person subgroups.

For all participants, the first round of the study was the same: Each individual was asked to look at tables of 12 three-digit with two decimal places and find the two numbers that add to ten.

The participants were then asked to solve as many tables as possible – up to 20 – in two minutes. Each participant was paid two dollars for every table they solved in the first round.

In the second round, the participants were asked to do the same task, but the two groups were incentivised differently.

Putting volunteers in groups and asking them to complete a series of maths problems in return for a reward helped researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson to study gender differences in relation to competition. Stock image

MILLIONS OF WOMEN CONSIDERED GIVING UP WORK IN LOCKDOWN

Millions of women considered ‘downshifting’ their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19, a 2020 report found. 

Female workers have been affected by the stress of juggling careers and looking after children, often compounded by a lack of help from their partner, it claims. 

Women’s rights organisation Lean In, which was founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in 2013, surveyed 40,000 employees at 317 US firms for its report.  

It found a quarter of women are considering giving up work due to stress and another quarter are worried about their performance at work being judged because of their need to look after their child.    

Read more: Women ‘set to quit the workplace because of Covid-19’

In the first group, the two participants in each four-person team who solved the most tables earned four dollars per table solved, while their other two team members were given nothing.

In the other group, the top two performers of each four-person team also earned four dollars per table, but they had the right to decide how much of the prize money to share with one of the lower performing participants.

In the third round, all the participants were allowed to choose which payment scheme they preferred from the two previous rounds.

For half the study participants, this meant a choice between a guaranteed two dollars per correct table, or potentially four dollars per correct table, if they became one of the top two performers in their four-person subgroup.

For the other half of the participants, the choice was two dollars per correct table or four dollars per correct table for the top-two performers with the option to share the winnings with one of the losing participants.

The number of women who chose the competitive option nearly doubled when given the option to share their winnings.

The researchers found that about 60 percent chose to compete under that option, while only about 35 percent of women chose to compete in the winner-take-all version of the tournament.

Whereas just over half of the men in the study chose the winner-take-all option, and 52.5 per cent chose the format that allowed them to share with the losers.

Professor Rigdon said that she and her colleague, Professor Cassar, have a few theories about why women are more inclined to compete when they can share the winnings.

One theory suggests that female participants are simply interested in controlling the way the winnings are divided up among the other participants.

Professor Rigdon explained that another theory, which has emerged among evolutionary psychologists, suggests that female participants may be inclined to smooth over bad feelings with losers of the competition.

She said: ‘We really have to ask what it is about this social incentive that drives women to compete.

‘We think it’s recognising the different costs and benefits that come from your different biological and cultural constraints.

‘But at the end of the day, I think we still have this question.’

The 238 participants were evenly split between men and women, and had the option of choosing a guaranteed prize for a correct result, a larger prize if they were a top performer, or a larger prize with the option to share the winnings with the losers. Stock image

The researchers are now developing an experiment that gets to the heart of that question.

Although they have been careful to not propose policies for corporate America based on their line of research that still has many questions to answer, the researchers’ latest findings suggest that corporations might do well to engage in more socially responsible activity.

Professor Rigdon concluded: ‘Maybe you’ll attract a different set of applicants to your CEO positions or your board of director positions.

‘Women might be more attracted to positions where there is this social component that isn’t there in more traditional, incentive-based firms where it’s all about CEO bonuses.’

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pregnant women who take maternity leave are subject to ‘microaggressions’ at work such as being told they have ‘preggy brain’, treated like a ‘coffee lady’ and mistaken for a PA, study finds 

 Expectant mothers face discrimination in the workplace in the form of sexist comments and ‘microaggressions’, a new study reveals. 

Researchers at London South Bank University surveyed 104 British women who had become pregnant and been in the workplace prior to taking leave.  

The respondents reported facing sexist comments about having a ‘preggy brain’ and being refused promotions and pay bonuses.

Many said male colleagues, who often earned more for working in the same roles, started treating them differently when they got pregnant.

Some women reported that even though they were successful senior managers, they were treated like the ‘coffee lady’ or a personal assistant.

Other respondents said they endured negative comments due to taking time off for maternity appointments or illnesses.   

 

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