Sunday, December 16, 2012

Competitiveness and Career Choices

The first economic experimental paper on gender differences in competitiveness is nearing its 10 year anniversary: "Performance in Competitive Environments: Gender Differences" by Uri Gneezy, Muriel Niederle and Aldo Rustichini. With Lise Vesterlund I then published a paper where we do not assess the intensive margin but rather the extensive margin of gender differences in competitiveness "Do Women Shy away from Competition? Do Men Compete too Much?".

I was fortunate that this work received a lot of attention and generated a whole literature (for an overview see  Niederle, Muriel and Lise Vesterlund, “Gender and Competition”). We also received a lot of citations from labor economists mentioning that gender differences in psychological attributes, such as competitiveness, may be a reason for the gender gap in education and labor market outcomes.

However, there has been no satisfactory direct evidence linking gender differences in psychological attributes such as competitiveness to education and labor market outcomes. That is we have no good evidence on the external relevance of competitiveness. This is what  Buser, Thomas, Muriel Niederle and Hessel Oosterbeek, “Gender, Competitiveness and Career Choices,” does: We examine how competitiveness is associated with education. The abstract reads: 
           "Gender differences in competitiveness are often discussed as a potential explanation for gender differences in education and labor market outcomes. We correlate an incentivized measure of competitiveness with an important career choice of secondary school students in the Netherlands. At the age of 15, these students have to pick one out of four study profiles, which vary in how prestigious they are. While boys and girls have very similar levels of academic ability, boys are substantially more likely than girls to choose more prestigious profiles. We find that competitiveness is as important a predictor of profile choice as gender. More importantly, up to 23 percent of the gender difference in profile choice can be attributed to gender differences in competitiveness. This lends support to the extrapolation of laboratory findings on competitiveness to labor market settings."

More work is needed to make sure these findings are robust. 

Stay tuned for more on gender differences and also for more on lab to field papers.


  1. We actually have a paper similar to the Buser et al., where we look at school admissions in the Czech Republic:

  2. Thanks for reminding me of your paper, I think of your paper as being closer to Örs, Evren, Frederic Palomino, and Eloic Peyrache. 2008. “Performance Gender-Gap: Does Competition Matter?” Center for Economic and Policy Research Discussion Paper 6891.

    In our paper we can directly link the behavior of students in the experiment to their choices in study profiles in high school...