Stress Reactions Cannot Explain the Gender Gap in Willingness to Compete

Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper 15-059/I

36 Pages Posted: 20 May 2015

See all articles by Thomas Buser

Thomas Buser

University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam School of Economics (ASE)

Anna Dreber

Stockholm School of Economics - Department of Economics

Johanna Mollerstrom

George Mason University - Department of Economics; Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)

Date Written: May 19, 2015

Abstract

Women are often less willing than men to compete, even in tasks where there is no gender gap in performance. Also, many people experience competitive contexts as stressful and previous research has documented that men and women sometimes react differently to acute stressors. We use two laboratory experiments to investigate whether factors related to stress can help explain the gender gap in competitiveness. Experiment 1 studies whether stress responses (measured with salivary cortisol and through self-assessment) to taking part in a mandatory competition predict individual willingness to participate in a voluntary competition. We find that while the mandatory competition does increase stress levels, there is no gender difference in this reaction. Cortisol response does not predict willingness to compete for men but is positively and significantly correlated with choosing to enter the voluntary competition for women. In Experiment 2 we exogenously induce stress using the cold-pressor task. We find no causal effect of stress on competitiveness for the sample as a whole and only tentative evidence of a positive effect for women. In summary, even though there are some gender differences in the relation between stress responses and the decision to enter a competition or not, these cannot explain the general gender gap in willingness to compete that is generally found in the literature and which we replicate.

Keywords: gender, competitiveness, stress, cortisol, lab experiment

JEL Classification: C91, D03, J16, J24, J33

Suggested Citation

Buser, Thomas and Dreber, Anna and Mollerstrom, Johanna, Stress Reactions Cannot Explain the Gender Gap in Willingness to Compete (May 19, 2015). Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper 15-059/I, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2608013 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2608013

Thomas Buser (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam School of Economics (ASE) ( email )

Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, North Holland 1018 WB
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://sites.google.com/site/thomasbuser/

Anna Dreber

Stockholm School of Economics - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 6501
Sveavagen 65
S-113 83 Stockholm
Sweden

Johanna Mollerstrom

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/johannamollerstrom/

Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) ( email )

Box 55665
Grevgatan 34, 2nd floor
Stockholm, SE-102 15
Sweden

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