University Study Examines Women’s Appetite for Competitiveness

A unique study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara used an analysis of entrants into a local road race to see if women were as competitive as men. They hoped to extrapolate the results to learn why women are not well represented among the top echelon of corporate officers.

The researchers examined entrants into the Santa Barbara State Street Mile road race. Entrants can self-select which division of the race they want to enter. An elite division for runners with the best times offers a cash prize. The researchers examined which runners entered the elite race and compared their best times, age, and gender.

The results showed that most women who had times that gave them a chance to win the elite race, in fact entered the competition. The same was true to for men. But the data also showed that many men who did not have times that suggested that they had a chance to compete in the elite race, nevertheless entered the more difficult competition.

Catherine Weinberger, a researcher with the university’s Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research and a co-author of the study, stated, “This would be like saying all the women who have the chance of being promoted up the hierarchy to CEO are going to be in the race, along with both the most qualified men and a lot of men who are unlikely to be promoted. The fact that there aren’t a lot of women choosing to be in that track isn’t necessarily what keeps women out of the CEO office. When it matters, the women are just as competitive as the men.”

“If our work can be extrapolated from this competitive setting to the real labor market, then it suggests that there are other reasons for the underrepresentation of women in CEO positions,” Weinberger said.

Dr. Weinberger is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She holds a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

The study, co-authored by Rodney Garratt, a professor of economics at UCSB and Nicholas Johnson, a former student at the university, was published in the journal Economic Inquiry. The research may be accessed here.

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