Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?

49 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2005

See all articles by Muriel Niederle

Muriel Niederle

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Lise Vesterlund

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 2005


Competitive high ranking positions are largely occupied by men, and women remain scarce in engineering and sciences. Explanations for these occupational differences focus on discrimination and preferences for work hours and field of study. We examine if absent these factors gender differences in occupations may still occur. Specifically we explore whether women and men, on a leveled playing field, differ in their selection into competitive environments. Men and women in a laboratory experiment perform a real task under a non-competitive piece rate and a competitive tournament scheme. Although there are no gender differences in performance under either compensation, there is a substantial gender difference when participants subsequently choose the scheme they want to apply to their next performance. Twice as many men as women choose the tournament over the piece rate. This gender gap in tournament entry is not explained by performance either before or after the entry decision. Furthermore, while men are more optimistic about their relative performance, differences in beliefs only explain a small share of the gap in tournament entry. In a final task we assess the impact of non-tournament-specific factors, such as risk and feedback aversion, on the gender difference in compensation choice. We conclude that even controlling for these general factors, there is a large residual gender gap in tournament entry.

Suggested Citation

Niederle, Muriel and Vesterlund, Lise, Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much? (July 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11474. Available at SSRN:

Muriel Niederle (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lise Vesterlund

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics ( email )

4T18 WW Posvar. Hall
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States


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