Men Crave Competition, In Work and Play


Do you like competing with your coworkers? If the answer is yes, you're probably male.

Men are 94 percent more likely than women to apply for a job with a salary potential that is dependent on outperforming their colleagues, according to a large new study from the University of Chicago.

"Women shy away from competitive workplaces whereas men covet, and even thrive in, competitive environments," the study, involving nearly 7,000 job seekers in 16 large American cities, concluded.

Economics professor John List, the senior author of the study, undertook the ambitious project in an effort to help explain the chronic disparity between wages paid to male and female workers, even for similar work.

The latest statistics show that women still earn less than 80 percent as much as men, and there have been many attempts to explain the gap. Women are less likely to work full time, and they are more likely to take time off to care for their family, and thus they tend to have less time on the job.

And many suspect there's more than a little prejudice against female workers, especially in fields dominated -- and largely managed -- by men.

Could Men's Love of Competition Be Behind Salary Gap?

List and his coauthors, Jeffrey Flory, a graduate student in economics at the University of Maryland, and Andreas Leibbrandt, a postdoctoral fellow at Chicago, were intrigued by a number of recent laboratory studies showing that men are, by nature, more competitive than women. Most of us probably don't need scholarly studies to tell us that, because we see it all around us.

But the researchers wanted to take it to the next level. Could that love of competition, shared among most men and avoided by most women, be at least part of the reason for the salary gap? Women are raised to be understanding and conciliatory; men are raised to slay wild beasts and triumph over their male friends.

So is it likely that many women won't even apply for a specific job if they know their success depends on performing better than their co-workers? The answer is yes, according to the study, unless the job pays significantly more than other similar jobs in their community.

Men More Likely to Apply for Performance-Based Jobs

The researchers placed two ads on Internet job boards in 16 cities for an administrative assistant, the most common job in the United States, according to federal statistics. The ads ran from January to April, 2010.

They got a response from 6,770 persons.

Those respondents were told the wage structure for the jobs, and 2,702 applied, including 1,566 women and 1,136 men. Some were told they would be paid on an hourly basis, but the amount would depend on how they performed compared to their coworkers.

Others were told they would receive the same pay, regardless of how well they competed with others. And others were told they would be members of a team and would be rewarded on the basis of how the team performed, not how well each individual competed.

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