Competing for the benefit of offspring eliminates the gender gap in competitiveness

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 May 10;113(19):5201-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520235113. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


Recent advances have highlighted the evolutionary significance of female competition, with the sexes pursuing different competitive strategies and women reserving their most intense competitive behaviors for the benefit of offspring. Influential economic experiments using cash incentives, however, have found evidence suggesting that women have a lower desire to compete than men. We hypothesize that the estimated gender differences critically depend on how we elicit them, especially on the incentives used. We test this hypothesis through an experiment with adults in China (n = 358). Data show that, once the incentives are switched from monetary to child-benefitting, gender differences disappear. This result suggests that female competition can be just as intense as male competition given the right goals, indicating important implications for policies designed to promote gender equality.

Keywords: affirmative action; economic experiment; female competition; gender gap; sexual selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't