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Gender Differences in Seeking Challenges: The Role of Institutions

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  • Muriel Niederle
  • Alexandra H. Yestrumskas

Abstract

We examine whether women and men of the same ability differ in their decisions to seek challenges. In the laboratory, we create an environment in which we can measure a participants performance level (high or low), where a high performance level participant has on average higher earnings from solving a hard rather than an easy task, and vice versa. After we identify each participant's performance level, they choose the difficulty level (easy or hard) for the next two tasks (only one of which will be chosen for payment). Although there are no gender differences in performance, or beliefs about relative performance, men choose the hard task about 50 percent more frequently than women, independent of performance level. Gender differences in preferences for characteristics of the tasks cannot account for this gender gap. When we allow for a flexible choice high performing women choose the hard task significantly more often, at a rate now similar to the decision of men. Such a flexible choice makes challenging choices easier when participants are either risk averse, or uncertain about their ability. Our results highlight the role of institution design in affecting choices of women and men, and the resulting gender differences in representation in challenging tasks.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13922.

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Date of creation: Apr 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13922

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  1. Mobius, Markus & Rosenblat, Tanya, 2010. "Why Beauty Matters," Staff General Research Papers 32112, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  2. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete too Much?," Discussion Papers 04-030, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  3. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2000. "Gender Differences in Pay," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 75-99, Fall.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Kevin F. Hallock, 2001. "The Gender gap in top corporate jobs," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(1), pages 3-21, October.
  5. Datta Gupta, Nabanita & Poulsen, Anders & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2005. "Male and Female Competitive Behavior: Experimental Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 1833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Botond Köszegi, 2006. "Ego Utility, Overconfidence, and Task Choice," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 4(4), pages 673-707, 06.
  7. Catherine C. Eckel & Philip J. Grossman, 2008. "Forecasting Risk Attitudes: An Experimental Study Using Actual and Forecast Gamble Choices," Development Research Unit Working Paper Series archive-01, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  8. Muriel Niederle & Carmit Segal & Lise Vesterlund, 2008. "How Costly is Diversity? Affirmative Action in Light of Gender Differences in Competitiveness," NBER Working Papers 13923, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Uri Gneezy & Muriel Niederle & Aldo Rustichini, 2003. "Performance In Competitive Environments: Gender Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1049-1074, August.
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