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How Costly is Diversity? Affirmative Action in Light of Gender Differences in Competitiveness

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  • Muriel Niederle
  • Carmit Segal
  • Lise Vesterlund

Abstract

Recent research documents that while men are eager to compete, women often shy away from competitive environments. A consequence is that few women enter and win competitions. Using experimental methods we examine how affirmative action affects competitive entry. We find that when women are guaranteed equal representation among winners, more women and fewer men enter competitions, and the response exceeds that predicted by changes in the probability of winning. An explanation for this response is that under affirmative action the probability of winning depends not only on one's rank relative to other group members, but also on one's rank within gender. Both beliefs on rank and attitudes towards competition change when moving to a more gender-specific competition. The changes in competitive entry have important implications when assessing the costs of affirmative action. Based on ex-ante tournament entry affirmative action is predicted to lower the performance requirement for women and thus result in reverse discrimination towards men. Interestingly this need not be the outcome when competitive entry is not payoff maximizing. The response in entry implies that it may not be necessary to lower the performance requirement for women to achieve a more diverse set of winners.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13923
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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