Gender Differences in Reactions to Setbacks: Evidence from High School Debate Competitions

75 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2017 Last revised: 7 Nov 2017

Date Written: October 29, 2017


This paper studies gender-related performance differences in competitive environments using a novel setting: high school debate tournaments. I first document large gender gaps in percentage of debates won across all debate formats and find that differences in age and prior tournament experience explain about half of the 27 percentage point gap between all-female and all-male teams. I then exploit exogenous variation in win percentage in a given year of high school caused by teams being randomly assigned judges of differing levels of "female friendliness" during that year. I use this variation to estimate the effect of win rate in a given year on a female team’s likelihood of quitting debate the following year. I find that female teams respond very strongly to win rate: A one standard deviation increase in win rate reduces the female dropout rate by 50% (15 percentage points) but has no effect for men. This difference completely eliminates the gender gap in dropout rates and suggests that women’s reactions to losses may play a key role in later outcomes. This result reinforces the need to consider gender differences in reactions to setbacks in designing solutions to gender disparities in labor markets.

Keywords: labor, labor markets, earnings, gender, gender disparities, gender gap, competitiveness, education, education economics, discrimination

JEL Classification: J01, J16, J31, J71

Suggested Citation

Tartakovsky, Daniel, Gender Differences in Reactions to Setbacks: Evidence from High School Debate Competitions (October 29, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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