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Gender Differences in the Willingness to Compete Emerge Early in Life and Persist


  • Matthias Sutter

    () (Department of Economics, University of Cologne, D-50923 Cologne, Germany; and Department of Public Finance, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria)

  • Daniela Glätzle-Rützler

    () (Department of Public Finance, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria)


Gender differences in the willingness to compete have been identified as one important factor in explaining gender differences in labor markets and within organizations. We present three experiments with a total of 1,570 subjects, ages three to 18 years, to investigate the origins of this gender gap. In a between-subjects design we find that boys are more likely to compete than girls as early as kindergarten and that this gap prevails throughout adolescence. Re-examining the behavior of 316 subjects in a within-subjects design two years later, we show that these gender differences also largely persist over a longer time period and can thus be considered stable. Controlling for subjects' abilities in the different tasks, their risk attitudes, and expected performance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete is estimated in the range of 10–20 percentage points. We discuss the implications of our findings for policy interventions and organizational management.Data, as supplemental material, are available at . This paper was accepted by Uri Gneezy, behavioral economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthias Sutter & Daniela Glätzle-Rützler, 2015. "Gender Differences in the Willingness to Compete Emerge Early in Life and Persist," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 61(10), pages 2339-23354, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:61:y:2015:i:10:p:2339-23354

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    Cited by:

    1. Britta Hoyer & T.M. van Huizen & L.M. Keijzer & T. Rezaei Khavas & S. Rosenkranz & B. Westbrock, 2016. "Do talented women shy away from competition?," Working Papers 16-06, Utrecht School of Economics.
    2. Jetter, Michael & Walker, Jay K., 2017. "Gender Differences in Competitiveness and Risk-Taking among Children, Teenagers, and College Students: Evidence from Jeopardy!," IZA Discussion Papers 11201, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Booth, Alison L. & Fan, Elliott & Meng, Xin & Zhang, Dandan, 2016. "Gender Differences in Willingness to Compete: The Role of Culture and Institutions," IZA Discussion Papers 10364, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Armin Falk & Fabian Kosse, 2016. "Early Childhood Environment, Breastfeeding and the Formation of Preferences," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 882, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    5. Aurelie Dariel & Curtis Kephart & Nikos Nikiforakis & Christina Zenker, 2017. "Emirati women do not shy away from competition: evidence from a patriarchal society in transition," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 3(2), pages 121-136, December.
    6. repec:kap:expeco:v:20:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10683-016-9496-x is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Jeworrek, Sabrina, 2016. "Competition Entry and Relative Performance Feedback: The Importance of Information Disaggregated by Gender," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145859, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    8. John Ifcher & Homa Zarghamee, 2016. "Do Gender-Variant Preferences For Competition Persist In The Absence Of Performance?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(4), pages 1918-1930, October.
    9. Felix Koelle, 2016. "Affirmative Action and Team Performance," Discussion Papers 2016-20, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    10. Kießling, Lukas & Radbruch, Jonas & Schaube, Sebastian, 2018. "The Impact of Self-Selection on Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 11365, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. repec:eee:ecolet:v:164:y:2018:i:c:p:86-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Loukas Balafoutas & Brent J. Davis & Matthias Sutter, 2017. "How uncertainty and ambiguity in tournaments affect gender differences in competitive behavior," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2017_18, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    13. Kato, Takao & Kodama, Naomi, 2017. "Women in the Workplace and Management Practices: Theory and Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 10788, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    14. repec:eee:jeborg:v:151:y:2018:i:c:p:19-41 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. repec:eee:joepsy:v:62:y:2017:i:c:p:50-62 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. repec:oup:oxecpp:v:69:y:2017:i:4:p:986-1009. is not listed on IDEAS


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