Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

SIFR Research Report Series,
Institute for Financial Research

No 69: Outrunning the Gender Gap – Boys and Girls Compete Equally

Anna Dreber (), Emma von Essen () and Eva Ranehill ()
Additional contact information
Anna Dreber: Institute for Financial Research, Postal: Drottninggatan 89, SE-113 60 Stockholm, Sweden
Emma von Essen: Stockholm University
Eva Ranehill: Stockholm School of Economics

Abstract: Recent studies find that women are less competitive than men. This gender difference in competitiveness has been suggested as a possible explanation for why men occupy the majority of top positions in many sectors. In this study we explore competitiveness in children. A related field experiment on Israeli children shows that only boys react to competition by running faster when competing in a race and that only girls react to the gender of their opponent. Here we test if these results carry over to 7-10 year old Swedish children. Sweden is typically ranked among the most gender equal countries in the world, thus culture could explain a potential difference in our results to those on Israeli children. We also introduce two more “female” sports: skipping rope and dancing, in order to study if reaction to competition is task dependent. Our results extend previous findings in two ways. First, we find no gender difference in reaction to competition in running. In our study, both boys and girls compete. We also find no gender differences in reaction to competition in skipping rope and dancing. Second, we find no clear effect on competitiveness of the opponent’s gender, neither on girls or boys, in any of the tasks. Our findings suggest that the existence of a gender gap in competitiveness among children may be partly cultural, and that the gap found in previous studies on adults may be caused by factors that emerge later in life. It remains to be explored whether these later factors are biological or cultural.

Keywords: competitiveness; gender differences; field experiment

JEL-codes: C93; D03; J16

18 pages, October 15, 2009

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