Friday, March 16, 2007

(How) Are Men and Women Different?



The subject of differences between men and women has always been a touchy one. Economist Lawrence Summers stepped down last year as president of Harvard, for example, after he touched off a firestorm by speculating that the differences between the achievements of men and women in academia might be due in part to differences in ability.

Suppose we posit that men and women are completely identical in their ability: or more specifically, that the distribution of ability is not dependent on gender. Even under such circumstances, there are two reasons that we might expect different outcomes among men and women: (1) institutional factors, such as discrimination, cause a woman to obtain a lesser outcome than a man of similar ability; or (2) women, for whatever reason, make systematically different choices than men, perhaps because their preferences are systematically different.

In a forthcoming paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, economists Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund use an experiment to test the second hypothesis. Specifically, they split participants (usually college students) into groups of two women and two men. They then offered each of them a simple task: adding up series of five two-digit numbers. After a few rounds of practice, the participants were given a choice. If they selected the "piece rate" option, they would earn $0.50 for each correct calculation they made, no matter how the others in their group performed. If they selected the "tournament" option, they would earn $2.00 for each correct calculation—but only if they had the most correct calculations in the group.

What happened? About three-quarters of the men in the experiment chose the tournament option, compared to about one-quarter of the women. Indeed, most of the men who in fact had performed worst in the group chose the tournament option, and most of the women who in fact had performed best in the group chose the piece-rate option. In other words, mistakes were made by members of both genders: the men were too competitive, and the women chose the competitive option too seldom.

Niederle and Vesterlund conclude by saying:

It is generally agreed that ability alone cannot explain the absence of women in male dominated fields. In natural settings, issues such as discrimination, the amount of time devoted to the profession, and the desire for women to raise children may provide some explanation for the choices of women. However, in this paper we have examined an environment where women and men perform equally well, and where issues of discrimination, or time spent on the job do not have any explanatory power. Nonetheless we find large gender differences in the propensity to choose competitive environments… Much may be gained if we can create environments in which high-ability women are willing to compete.

Discussion Questions

1. If Niederle and Vesterlund's conclusion is correct, does this mean that "winner-take-all" competitions are inherently discriminatory against women? Why or why not? If they are, what, if anything, should be done to correct the situation?

2. Academia is one area in which there exists intense interpersonal competition for top jobs—for example, tenured positions at top universities. Steve Levitt of the University of Chicago recently called for the elimination of the tenure system. (Greg Mankiw responded that he's not surprised that Levitt, as a winner of the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal and co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics, places a relatively low monetary value on job security.) If we accept Niederle and Versterlund's conclusion, would eliminating the tenure system result in more women in academia, or fewer?

3. Many economists, when faced with a problem that some call a "market failure," like to recast the problem as one of "missing markets." For example, Ronald Coase famously showed that the problem of externalities could be resolved by allowing the affected parties to bargain with one another. Is there any way to recast the inefficiency shown in Niederle and Versterlund's experiment—i.e., the fact that women shy away from competition while men compete too much—as a problem of missing markets? If so, what market is missing?

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10 Comments:

  • At 7:46 AM, March 21, 2007, Blogger Jenya said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
  • At 9:30 AM, May 11, 2007, Blogger Lassey said…

    1) The “winner-take-all” competitions could be inherently discriminatory against women if it were well known that women are not competitive as men. The term here, though, is inherently, which to me is a derived demand. Women inherit their inherent qualities and this discrimination due to societies idea that woman should stay home raising a family and be the stable one. Competition is or could be reckless if you are a responsible person raising children. I view a man’s desire to compete as often time childish and reckless behavior—stupid. Of course I am generalizing here for the sake of the argument. Is this purposefully discriminating? No, we are all designed by our childhood and experiences which make us who we are—beautiful weather we are competitive or not. As far as correcting this situation, why should we? The differences in men and women are necessary by God’s design. Let us just accept that men like to puff themselves up and prove they are better or bigger than their buddy (because they are overconfident) and then let us laugh about it. Sometimes it can be funny to watch in action!

    2) I don’t think that eliminating the tenure system will make any difference in academia. I don’t think that it is tenure that drives men or women to work in their field or move up the ladder. Niederle and Vesterlund conclude that “much may be gained if we can create an environment in which high-ability women are willing to compete.” I feel that it isn’t going to make any difference as a competitive nature is just that, a competitive nature or inherent personality which is not something that simply changes because we change the environment or externalities. Eliminating tenure will not change a person’s personality. It might however, open doors for some women who don’t like competition, but I still believe that due to society and a woman’s nature, there will always be more men than women in high-ability jobs or academia.
    However, I do believe that eliminating the tenure system would be good for the academia market – like deregulation. It would greatly improve faculties work habits or at least give them an incentive to perform as they should. Scholars should not be protected by tenure at all.

    3) I believe there is an inefficient market shown in Niederle and Vesterlund’s experiment. The experiment shows us that there is market failure (fewer women) in the woman labor market. Their article states that the labor market would be greatly improved if more women with high-ability were to compete for top level jobs as men do. However, I don’t believe there would be any method that would work to change the composition or eliminate this failed market. Their article notes several external reasons for this failed market such as: low self-esteem or lack of confidence, woman discrimination, available time, raising children, environment, and society acceptance. I am sure too, that there are more reasons that aren’t noted. If we look at ancient history for thousands of years and note the fact that woman were allowed to vote only some 87 years ago, we can then understand why this is a failed market. If this were to change, I believe it wouldn’t take place in any near future, but maybe in another millennium.

     
  • At 12:34 PM, May 12, 2007, Blogger twigand22 said…

    1.) I think that the "winner-take-all" types of competitions seem to be inherently discriminatory against women. The reason I believe this is because according to the results of the Niederle and Vesterlund case women were not the only ones who made a mistake by choosing to use the winner-take-all method. Women used this method and could have gained more had they used the tournament method and the men chose the tournament method but should have chosen the winner-take-all method overall. Though some of the men who did not do so well gained money because they used this method. Men usually tend to be more competitive than women which is why more women would choose to use winner-take-all over tournament so it would tend to lead to a bias on the woman's part. The only thing that could be done to correct this situation would be that women and men become more like each other in their actions and thoughts but I don't know if this could really ever happen.

    2.) I think that if it's true that women are less competitive than men are that if the tenure system were to be eliminated that more women would be involved in academia. The reason for this is because the tenure system has many qualifications required of each person who wants to hold a certain position in academia. It would seem likely that this is the reason why more men hold the higher positions in tenured positions at top universities, because men are more likely to compete for the jobs and go through the qualifications than women would be, though some women still do, just not many. If the tenure system were eliminated I think that there would be more women holding higher tenure positions at top universities.

    3.) I think that there is a way to recast the inefficiency shown in Niederle and Versterlund's experiment. This way would be to make women become more competitive and men become less competitive, so that they could meet somewhere in the middle and become more equal. The fact that men are more competitive is a major reason why you see men filling most of the top job positions and rarely see a woman running for presidency. I would have to say that, based on this information, the market that is missing is the market for women in the workforce, or at least in high positions in the workforce.

     
  • At 5:27 PM, May 13, 2007, Blogger Michelle said…

    1. If their theory is correct, something should be done to make the playing field equal. Men I fell are natural risk takers. You can see this stem from boyhood. Girls are always shying away from things. They are careful. Well most of them anyways. Men seem to naturally jump at a chance. Personally I don’t know what could be done to make things equal, but then again, whoever said competition is fair?

    2. I think if there is less risk involved, more women will try to break through that glass ceiling. It really is just a matter of time. Look at where we are now. We have a woman talking about running for president, and an African American man. I think we are making our way up on the big white man!! Haha. Personally I think jobs are just like school. You have your cliques. They don’t let you in their group. If you find ways, they create obstacles. I really think that is the majority of the problem vs. “women being afraid to be competitive.” Of course we will take more time in our decisions and not jump at something we are not fully aware of. I think women will take the longer way around, but we will be prepared when we get there.

    3. This experiment, is after all a generalization. There is no way to prove why someone picked this, that day and picked that, this day. I honestly don’t know if there would be anyway to fully prove this theory. So many factors need to be taken into consideration. The time period in which the experiment is taken is #1. But then again you have outside influences etc… etc… If I’m understanding this right, I think the market that is missing is the market of women who actually own businesses already and are making their way into the new generation of workforce and business owners. When it comes down to it, women are tuffer, we are eventually the bosses, and we will eventually get our way. Happy Mother’s Day Mommies!!! And boys don’t take offence, you know it’s true, and if you don’t then you will when your married. =0)

     
  • At 9:05 PM, May 14, 2007, Blogger Baron said…

    1. Men and women are raised differently. Women are taught to take what they are offered, while men should always demand for more. However, I do not think of this as discrimination. A choice to play safe and not choose the tournament option is a choice, and it has both drawbacks and advantages.

    2. I would have to go with less women in academia. It all goes back to the main thesis that men are more competitive than women. The competition to get a tenured position at top universities are already high as of today. If the tenure system were to be eliminated, that would raise the level of competition even higher.

    3. I can’t really think of a way to make the experiment more efficient. However, men and women these days are starting to close the gap between their competitiveness. Men are getting less competitive, while women are starting to learn about equality. I believe that the society will even out eventually as it is. There shouldn’t be a need to change anything.

    Baron Ong
    Econ-202

     
  • At 10:15 PM, May 14, 2007, Blogger rcampbell242 said…

    1. If Niederle and Vesterlund's conclusion is correct, does this mean that "winner-take-all" competitions are inherently discriminatory against women? Why or why not? If they are, what, if anything, should be done to correct the situation?
    I don't believe that a 'winner-take-all" competetion is discriminatory against women. I believe there are benefits to both alternatives in the experiment and it is an example of differing personalities. I don't think this experiment holds up and is only a generalization of both sexes.

    2. Academia is one area in which there exists intense interpersonal competition for top jobs—for example, tenured positions at top universities. Steve Levitt of the University of Chicago recently called for the elimination of the tenure system. (Greg Mankiw responded that he's not surprised that Levitt, as a winner of the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal and co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics, places a relatively low monetary value on job security.) If we accept Niederle and Versterlund's conclusion, would eliminating the tenure system result in more women in academia, or fewer? I think that by eliminating tenure we produce a healthy competition that is best for the educational syatem. If the experiment holds to be true and women are not as competitive as men, than we might see fewer women with teaching positions. Tenure will not fix this. A hands-off approach where competition determines who is employed will be best for the educational system. Women who are less competitive will be forced to compete and adapt to hold a teaching position.

    3. Many economists, when faced with a problem that some call a "market failure," like to recast the problem as one of "missing markets." For example, Ronald Coase famously showed that the problem of externalities could be resolved by allowing the affected parties to bargain with one another. Is there any way to recast the inefficiency shown in Niederle and Versterlund's experiment—i.e., the fact that women shy away from competition while men compete too much—as a problem of missing markets? If so, what market is missing?
    The premise that fewer women holding teaching positions is bad for the system is false in my view. Competition is healthy and will produce the best cnadidates for the job. IF women are less apt to compete, than they will be forced to adpat and learn to compete to get the job. This will in the long run produce equality in the workplace.

     
  • At 8:32 AM, May 22, 2007, Blogger danky36 said…

    1. From a pure economic sense it may not be as “efficient” as it seems. Much of the cost of education is determined by the way society perceives it. For example, if someone wants to become a school teacher, they would need a four year degree as well as a teacher’s credential. This could be done by going to Harvard. However, this could also be accomplished at a state subsidized university at a mere fraction of the price. Harvard has wonderful medical and law schools. Their reputation is famous throughout the world. As the article points out, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is almost imperative to have a degree from a school like Harvard. The more elite hospitals in the nation also put a lot of emphasis on the medical school a physician has attended. However, given the demand for doctors and oversupply of lawyers, does it really matter what school they go to? A degree is a degree. Employers in some job positions might think a Harvard graduate is overqualified or out of their price range.


    2. Since it is becoming more difficult and competitive to enter college, the demand for tutoring services has sky rocketed. As long as there is increased demand, these businesses will continue to thrive. There will always be a sufficient supply of tutors. People in the academic field are always looking for part-time job opportunities. If this market becomes saturated, the only affect it might have is to lower the cost of tutoring services. This may be advantageous to the student if quality is not compromised. This will always be in a state of equilibrium.

    One of the main benefits tutoring services provide is test-preparation. Students who use these services usually do better on their SAT scores. In addition, high school students are more apt to succeed in AP courses. This in turn gives them a head start for college. The need for mentors also impacts the success of a student as well. This motivates the student.


    3. I don’t think that tougher admission standards at Harvard will affect community colleges or state universities. Other Ivy League schools such as Duke, Stanford, and MIT may follow suit. Although students want to attend a school that is well-known, often the bottom line is price. People usually want the best value for their money. The fame a school has is often secondary.

     
  • At 8:33 AM, May 22, 2007, Blogger danky36 said…

    1. From a pure economic sense it may not be as “efficient” as it seems. Much of the cost of education is determined by the way society perceives it. For example, if someone wants to become a school teacher, they would need a four year degree as well as a teacher’s credential. This could be done by going to Harvard. However, this could also be accomplished at a state subsidized university at a mere fraction of the price. Harvard has wonderful medical and law schools. Their reputation is famous throughout the world. As the article points out, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is almost imperative to have a degree from a school like Harvard. The more elite hospitals in the nation also put a lot of emphasis on the medical school a physician has attended. However, given the demand for doctors and oversupply of lawyers, does it really matter what school they go to? A degree is a degree. Employers in some job positions might think a Harvard graduate is overqualified or out of their price range.


    2. Since it is becoming more difficult and competitive to enter college, the demand for tutoring services has sky rocketed. As long as there is increased demand, these businesses will continue to thrive. There will always be a sufficient supply of tutors. People in the academic field are always looking for part-time job opportunities. If this market becomes saturated, the only affect it might have is to lower the cost of tutoring services. This may be advantageous to the student if quality is not compromised. This will always be in a state of equilibrium.

    One of the main benefits tutoring services provide is test-preparation. Students who use these services usually do better on their SAT scores. In addition, high school students are more apt to succeed in AP courses. This in turn gives them a head start for college. The need for mentors also impacts the success of a student as well. This motivates the student.


    3. I don’t think that tougher admission standards at Harvard will affect community colleges or state universities. Other Ivy League schools such as Duke, Stanford, and MIT may follow suit. Although students want to attend a school that is well-known, often the bottom line is price. People usually want the best value for their money. The fame a school has is often secondary.

     
  • At 8:34 AM, May 22, 2007, Blogger danky36 said…

    1. From a pure economic sense it may not be as “efficient” as it seems. Much of the cost of education is determined by the way society perceives it. For example, if someone wants to become a school teacher, they would need a four year degree as well as a teacher’s credential. This could be done by going to Harvard. However, this could also be accomplished at a state subsidized university at a mere fraction of the price. Harvard has wonderful medical and law schools. Their reputation is famous throughout the world. As the article points out, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is almost imperative to have a degree from a school like Harvard. The more elite hospitals in the nation also put a lot of emphasis on the medical school a physician has attended. However, given the demand for doctors and oversupply of lawyers, does it really matter what school they go to? A degree is a degree. Employers in some job positions might think a Harvard graduate is overqualified or out of their price range.


    2. Since it is becoming more difficult and competitive to enter college, the demand for tutoring services has sky rocketed. As long as there is increased demand, these businesses will continue to thrive. There will always be a sufficient supply of tutors. People in the academic field are always looking for part-time job opportunities. If this market becomes saturated, the only affect it might have is to lower the cost of tutoring services. This may be advantageous to the student if quality is not compromised. This will always be in a state of equilibrium.

    One of the main benefits tutoring services provide is test-preparation. Students who use these services usually do better on their SAT scores. In addition, high school students are more apt to succeed in AP courses. This in turn gives them a head start for college. The need for mentors also impacts the success of a student as well. This motivates the student.


    3. I don’t think that tougher admission standards at Harvard will affect community colleges or state universities. Other Ivy League schools such as Duke, Stanford, and MIT may follow suit. Although students want to attend a school that is well-known, often the bottom line is price. People usually want the best value for their money. The fame a school has is often secondary.

     
  • At 7:41 PM, May 23, 2007, Blogger Blake said…

    1.“Winner-take-all” type of competitions could be discriminatory against women, concluding that men are always more competitive than women. Indeed in the general scope of society this proves to be true. In this argument you can use the nurture vs. nature argument in psychology. Mothers tend to attend more to nurture rather than nature. Meaning in this case that their propensity is towards the best possible outcome, this is achieved by choosing the safest route to get there. Whereas men tend to choose nature first, they use instincts and a competitive attitude quickly surfaces. I’m not sure there can be anything to do to correct this situation I think it is more of a natural occurrence, though this does not infer that men and women can not possess all of the same qualities.
    2. I don’t think that the elimination of tenure would change the amount of men or women in education. Professors in tenure positions have earned their position, and use it. I think tenured positions allow professors to sometimes go off topic and express too many personal biased beliefs. This can become a problem in some cases, but in many it provides a different learning experience for students. Personally I think if professors were always on edge if they could loose their job at any time they would not be as focused on the students and what current topics issues and situations are. If professors just taught the material in the book it would not provide for real life discussions or situations.
    3. The foundation that there are less female educators doesn’t necessarily hurt the image of educators as a whole. To me it demonstrates who is fit for the position. I think that if more females wanted to be educators that they would have to compete to obtain those positions. There would be no exact way to replicate what Niederle and Versterlund's experiment, but that could definitely be a variable of the experiment.

     

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