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

  • Muriel Niederle
  • Carmit Segal
  • Lise Vesterlund

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13923.

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Date of creation: Apr 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Muriel Niederle & Carmit Segal & Lise Vesterlund, 2013. "How Costly Is Diversity? Affirmative Action in Light of Gender Differences in Competitiveness," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 59(1), pages 1-16, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13923
Note: LS
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  1. Joseph G. Altonji & Rebecca M. Blank, . "Race and Gender in the Labor Market," IPR working papers 98-18, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  2. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 2004. "Would the Elimination of Affirmative Action Affect Highly Qualified Minority Applicants? Evidence from California and Texas," NBER Working Papers 10366, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Catherine C. Eckel & Philip J. Grossman, 2008. "Sex and Risk: Experimental Evidence," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-09, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  5. Roland G. Fryer, Jr. & Glenn C. Loury, 2005. "Affirmative Action and Its Mythology," NBER Working Papers 11464, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Sandra E. Black & Philip E. Strahan, 2001. "The Division of Spoils: Rent-Sharing and Discrimination in a Regulated Industry," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 814-831, September.
  7. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  8. Eckel, Catherine C. & Grossman, Philip J., 2008. "Differences in the Economic Decisions of Men and Women: Experimental Evidence," Handbook of Experimental Economics Results, Elsevier.
  9. 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.
  10. Long, M.C.Mark C., 2004. "College applications and the effect of affirmative action," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 319-342.
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