Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “Gender differences in competitiveness: friends matter”, by Jorgensen, L. K.; Piovesan, M. and Willadsen, H. (2022), in which authors analyze whether men and women are equally influenced when they are surrounded by successful people and how this affects their competitiveness. 

Gender differences in the world of work are related, among other things, with the attitudes that men and women have towards elements such as, for example, competition. 

According to a 2007 paper by Niederle and Vesterlund, men are twice as likely to consider themselves suitable candidates to compete with others, while for women, the general tendency would be the opposite. 

It appears that individual risk preferences, self-confidence, and beliefs associated with gender stereotypes may be relevant factors that help explain why these differences in competitiveness between the sexes occur. 

Another factor gaining importance with studies in recent years is the network of friends and acquaintances. Recent literature has explored how exposure to groups of women affects other women in male-dominated workplaces. On this idea, it seems that having a feminine network is important for other women. 

Following this line of thought, authors of this article wondered whether a child’s friendships are associated with the development of his or her competitiveness and, specifically, whether and how the sex of these friendships influences them. 

Before explaining what the experiment consisted of, it is useful to give some interesting data of the most important insights from recent related articles. 

For example, in 2003, it was found that as an environment becomes competitive, men seem to increase their performance, while the opposite occurs for women, generally speaking.

In 2007, Niederle and Vesterlund concluded that men compete more, a trend that persists even when risk aversion is controlled. 

In 2015, Sutter and Glätzle-Rützler conducted a study with findings such as that boys and girls are equally willing to compete. However, girls’ performance under incentives is significantly lower than boys’. In addition, this same study comments that boys are much more self-confident. 

In the working world, gender stereotypes associated with a job or task may explain the underrepresentation of women in competitive environments. If women perceive competitiveness as a masculine trait, they may feel pressured to act in contrary ways to meet expectations. 

And regarding the friendships idea we discussed a few lines above, as Booth and Nolen commented in a 2012 study, girls in feminine schools in the UK are 42% more likely to compete compared to girls attending co-educational schools. They argue that when females are in peer groups, they suffer less anxiety when doing group work, are more participative and develop more their career aspirations. 

The experiment conducted by the authors of our article was carried out with 338 children and adolescents aged 7 to 16 years. The children received a box with 120 Lego pieces and were given 3 minutes to build a series of specific constructions. 

In the first stage of the experiment, the children received 1 point for each correct construction. In the second stage, they competed with other children. Then, they had to evaluate their work and, finally, they were shown pictures of a boy and a girl and asked about their performance.

The obtained results were very interesting. It seems that the boys were no more willing to compete compared to the girls in the case of this particular sample. 

However, something caught the attention of the authors. Boys and girls with a higher than average success rate are supposed to be more likely to compete. In the case of the top-performing girls, this was not the case and they were almost 12% less likely than boys to choose to compete

Regarding the idea of the network of friends, authors found that girls are more likely to participate in a tournament or competitive activity if one of their friends possesses this personality trait.

Overall, for both girls and boys, a positive association was found between the competitiveness of their friends and classmates and their own competitiveness

Authors consider it very interesting to continue investigating these ideas in order to help develop the maximum potential of women and men from an early age, through improving their educational environments.

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