Women Welcome Competition to Better Past Performances But Not When Pitted Against Others

A new study led by Coren Apicella, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the lead author of a study that shows women are very competitive in efforts to improve themselves but tend to shy away from competition when they are pitted against other women and men.

The authors enlisted 1,200 people to participate in a three-round game where individuals either were given incentives to better their performance from earlier rounds or were asked to compete against other players for greater rewards. In the final round, participants were given the option of whether to try to improve on their own performance from earlier rounds or to continue to compete with others to earn higher rewards.

The results showed that 58 percent of men chose to compete with others in the final round compared to only 38 percent of women.

Dr. Apicella stated that “women are just as focused as men on self-improvement and mastery; they want to get better. But they shy away from competing against others.” She added that “gender differences when competing against others is largely driven by confidence and risk-taking. Men tend to overestimate their own ability and underestimate their opponent’s ability. Women still get paid less than men and are underrepresented in higher-ranking jobs, and it may be because they are shying away from competing against others.”

Dr. Apicella joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Liverpool and a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from Harvard University.

The study, “No Gender Difference in Willingness to Compete When Competing Against Self,” will be published in AER: Papers and Proceedings, a journal of the American Economic Association. It may be downloaded by clicking here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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