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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 92, August 2013, Pages 22–31
We experimentally investigate the difference in competitiveness of 3–5 year-old boys and girls in the U.S. 123 children from a preschool are randomly matched into girl–girl, boy–boy, and boy–girl pairs of similar age and participate in a gender-neutral, competitive classroom activity using candy as an incentive. Children participate in a piece rate incentive scheme and a tournament incentive scheme in rounds 1 and 2, and select their preferred incentive scheme for round 3. We find that girls and boys choose to compete at equal rates – with 80% of children choosing to compete overall. We also find that girls’ output in the task is significantly lower than that of boys under the tournament scheme, but not different in round 3 for the girls and boys who self-select into the tournament. All children display a remarkable rate of confidence – 84% of children believe they won under the tournament scheme. The gender of the match does not play a significant role.
While women in many Western countries are pursuing higher education at similar rates as men, women continue to have relatively lower earnings and are significantly less likely to hold executive positions in firms. In the U.S. in the last 50 years, this difference in earnings amounted to an earning rate of women that was 79% of men's in 2007 (and 64% of men's in 1957).1 Women only account for 2.5% of the highest paid executives in the U.S. (Bertrand and Hallock, 2001). Earning rates in other Western countries are similar, and range from 75% (Austria) to 95% (Italy).2 Studies conducted in a laboratory setting suggest that one factor contributing to this persistent wage gap may be an observed difference in competitiveness between men and women (Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007 and Gneezy et al., 2003). The difference in competitiveness has also been suggested as a factor accounting for differences in male and female achievement in math tests (Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007) and inclination to take competitive math exams (Zhang, 2011a). Recently, researchers have linked the lab findings to the labor market. In a field experiment that randomized 7000 job seekers to different compensation schemes, researchers found that fewer women than men applied to jobs with competitive schemes (Flory et al., 2010). However, a separate study that imposed a competitive incentive scheme on schoolteachers found no gender difference in performance (Lavy, 2012). Studies of competitiveness in children help illuminate the nature of the gender gap, providing evidence for how the willingness to compete evolves over time. We contribute to this nascent literature through an artifactual field experiment conducted in 10 different preschool classes from two preschool campuses in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Children in the preschool are 3–5 years old. 1233 children were randomly matched into girl–girl, boy–boy and boy–girl pairs of similar age and participated in a gender-neutral,4 competitive classroom activity using candy as an incentive. Children participated under a piece rate incentive scheme and a tournament incentive scheme in rounds 1 and 2, and selected their preferred incentive scheme for round 3. Common measures of competitiveness in related literature are performance under the tournament as compared to performance under the piece rate, and the choice to enter into a tournament. Several recent studies find mixed evidence for the existence of a gender gap in competitiveness at an early age (Sutter and Rutzler, 2010, Dreber et al., 2011, Gneezy and Rustichini, 2004 and Andersen et al., 2011). Reasons cited for the disagreement between these studies are that cultural factors and task selection matter across countries and tasks. Our experiment is the first to consider preschool children in the U.S. We find that after experiencing both schemes, girls and boys choose to compete at equal rates in our experiment – with 80% of children choosing to compete overall. Girls’ output in the task is significantly lower than that of boys under the tournament scheme when it is played in the first two rounds, but not different in round 3 for the girls and boys who self-select into the tournament. All children display a high rate of confidence – 84% of children believe they won the competition under the tournament scheme. The gender of the match does not play a significant role. These findings may suggest that experience with the task may play a role in the observed gender differences in the literature.