Are Women Less Competitive? Study Complicates the Question

Although a pay gap persists between men and women, the reason why can’t be reduced to the claim that women are less willing to be competitive, according to an experiment in economics and behavior.

What to know:

  • One theory that has been put forward to explain the persistence of the wage gap between men and women is that women are less competitive than men.

  • However, it may be that women just display competitiveness differently, according to research by Mary L. Rigdon, PhD, associate director of the University of Arizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, and Alessandra Cassar, PhD, professor of economics as the University of San Francisco.

  • The researchers conducted an experiment where 238 participants — about half men and half women — were asked to perform simple mathematics exercises with monetary rewards. Different rounds of the experiment involved choosing to compete with other participants for potentially higher rewards.

  • The number of women who chose the more competitive option almost doubled when they had the option to share their winnings with other participants.

  • One potential explanation is that the female participants were more interested in controlling the way winnings were divided among the participants, but Rigdon and Cassar are developing another study to help explain why women might feel more inclined to compete in some situations rather than others.

This is a summary of the article “Study Casts Doubt on Theory That Women Aren’t as Competitive as Men” published by the University of Arizona on November 1. The full article can be found on

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