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. 2016 May 10;113(19):5201-5.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520235113. Epub 2016 Apr 25.

Competing for the Benefit of Offspring Eliminates the Gender Gap in Competitiveness

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Competing for the Benefit of Offspring Eliminates the Gender Gap in Competitiveness

Alessandra Cassar et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. .
Free PMC article


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.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
(A) Task performance. Bars represent the average number of correct problems solved by male (blue) and female (red) subjects by treatment. Error bars represent means ± SE. Women, on average, scored significantly higher than men in the two compulsory treatments (piece-rate and tournament), marginally higher in choice-cash, and not significantly higher in choice-voucher. (B) Preferences and beliefs. Bars represent, respectively, average choice in risk tolerance game, willingness to pay for the voucher, and confidence number by male (blue) and female (red) subjects. Error bars represent mean ± SE. No significant gender differences were found in preferences and beliefs.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Tournament entry decision. Bars display the proportion of men (blue) and women (red) choosing to enter the tournament under choice-cash and choice-voucher. Error bars represent mean ± SE. Under choice-cash, the 10-percentage-point gender difference in tournament entry is significant (men: 0.36; women: 0.26; P = 0.043) but disappears under choice-voucher (men: 0.31; women: 0.31; P = 0.978).

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