Gender and competition

From American Economic Journal, Applied Economics:

“Do Women Give Up Competing More Easily? Evidence from the Lab and the Dutch Math Olympiad,” by Thomas Buser and Huaiping Yuan.

We use lab experiments and field data from the Dutch Math Olympiad to show that women are more likely than men to stop competing if they lose. In a math competition in the lab, women are much less likely than men to choose competition again after losing in the first round. In the Math Olympiad, girls, but not boys, who fail to make the second round are less likely to compete again one year later. This gender difference in the reaction to competition outcomes may help to explain why fewer women make it to the top in business and academia.

Here is the link to the paper.  Here are earlier, ungated versions.


Of course, we poor men are programmed for overconfidence. It may lead to more personal defeats, but (a) that's ok, we are programmed to forget them, and (b) it's good for the group.

Higher neuroticism among women means each personal defeat is more discouraging.

So persisting in the face of failure is a negative? Are you serious?

That's not what he said. I think he said that men are more expendable, which is true.

Maybe, but learning math isn't about being expendable. Anything worth learning requires a good dose of bloodymindedness.

Two anecdotes. In high tech and programming there is focus on encouragement and support for women to get into these fields. Fine. But the obstacles for men to get into these fields is competence, not lack of encouragement. Competence comes from doing, learning, making the mistakes that end up as experience.

Another. I train people in a complex technical trade. There are points within the process where the only way to get through is not to give up. Getting used to living in a state of confusion for a year or two, learning to enjoy new learning which is uncomfortable, these require determination. In my narrow experience many men aren't willing to do it, and even fewer women.

Anything worth doing will have many many points along the way where everything tells you to give up. Anything worth doing has many many failures along the way. Someone who doesn't have the personal determination to push through won't do these worthwhile things.

At what point does persistence cross the line into the sunk cost fallacy?

Let me put your question another way. At what point do you give up trying to build an economy that doesn't burn carbon? What point do you give up trying to figure out a driverless car?

None is sunk costs because both are treacherously difficult questions, and knowing what doesn't work is as valuable as figuring out what does. Assuming that the payoff at the end is worthwhile.

When you are learning, sunk costs don't mean anything negative experiences are the most valuable.

What you have to figure out is if you have the resources to accomplish what you set out to do. Am I smart enough to become conversant in higher mathematical idiom, for example. Some people aren't some are, and it becomes obvious at one point. That is also part of learning.

And yes, some things are not worth doing. Usually that becomes pretty clear over time.

There is an old economics saying that "anything worth doing is worth not doing well." So, perhaps this perseverance is a failure to understand marginal costs and benefits. From your experience, this failure would apply to "many men" and "even fewer women."

The Female Of The Species Is More Deadly Than The Male.

So, when the French or German women win the World Cup, do they get to play the in the men's World Cup Tourney?

There's another way to look at this. Men, being men, never get the message that they aren't very good at something, their inflated egos preventing it, their wasted consumption of resources the result of it. After all, how many men have led others to certain defeat. Women, on the other hand, have learned to be flexible, moving on to something different once they get the message they aren't very good at something, their underinflated egos allowing it, the absence of resources available to them all but requiring it. After all, women make personal sacrifices in childbirth in order to preserve and promote what's best for the tribe.

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same,
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
May not deal in doubt or pity - must not swerve for fact or jest.
These be purely male diversions - not in these her honor dwells -
She, the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else!


So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
To some God of abstract justice - which no woman understands.

Women are considered legitimate and respectable members of the society regardless of their achievement. For men, the default is low status. They will naturally do anything they can to come out of the low status trap.

In other words, the gender differences will persist as long as female supremacists like Rayward continue to push low status for men.

But an interesting point is that, while feminists/female supremacists understandably want to replicate for women all the positive incentives men have, hardly anyone worries about replicating the negative incentives.

It’s truly outrageous how fragile the masculinities are on the MR forum. “Female supremacist” is the most ludicrous phrase I’ve seen in the comservative’s social justice lexicon since “reverse racism.” It’s just doublespeak; insincere, fearful, insecure and silly. Female supremacism is not a thing, you’re just sexist and afraid of equitable treatment tearing the carpet out from under your feet.

This guy gets it.

That shows that females are much more sensible than males.

Sensible, evolved, and able to make a good decision. Throwing good money after bad and all that...

In an environment where risk-aversion was rewarded, yes. In the modern environment where failure isn't strongly punished, less clear.

A copy of the article here:

"The Dutch Math Olympiad is a yearly math competition which draws participants mainly fromyears four and five of the six-year academic track of secondary school."

That translates to boy and girls around 16-17 years old.Data shows that girls are significantly more affected by losing than boys in the Math Olympiad, because they don't register for the next year test.

Then, the authors make a great leap to conclusions:

"The results from ...the Math Olympiad show that a gender gap in willingness to compete appears with experience...".

The authors make the big assumption that not registering for the next test after failure to qualify to the next round is equivalent to a lack of willingness to compete.

Of course, it's feasible. But, what other factors can be at play here? What are the typical reactions of parents to this? Encouragement and "try again" or protect their child from the pain of failure by telling "don't worry, it's not that important"?

I wonder to what extent the authors were unaware of this, providing a much richer data set, one would have assumed - 'The International Mathematical Kangaroo is the largest world-wide competition and takes place annually on the third Thursday of March. This year over 50 countries joined the contest; with about 6.5 million students taking the same test! The aim of the event is to practice “thinking outside of the box” and solve problems by studying logical combinations. A multiple-choice questionnaire is handed out to the students and they have up to 75 minutes to fill it in. There is no penalty for any incorrect answer and no penalty for skipping a question. .... Questionnaires are graded in The Netherlands and results are out one month later. Every child receives a gift and a certificate. In addition, many prizes are given out, such as the prize for the “longest kangaroo jump” (i.e. the highest number of consecutive correct answers) for each school.'

Maybe, but 16 and 17 year olds aren't exactly known for taking the advice of their parents to heart.

At 16-17 years old a lot of boys are pimply gangly geeks. They are not dating.

Compare (some) 16-17 year old girls: they are certainly not interested in their age group, and if they are dating, it’ll be with 18-22 year old boys.

Few girls out there are choosing between a college aged boyfriend and a math competition.

Axa, is your hypothesis that instead of the girls not wanting to try again (for some reason), its the parents not wanting the girls not wanting to try again (for some reason)?

It's certainly possible, but it would fail to Occam's razor, of course.

@RIPM: parents, teachers, friends. When you face a defeat it's quite different if you listen positive ideas instead of being told you're not good for that.

I know the limits of data and research funding, but surveys are relatively cheap.

It's better to ask: Mark in a scale of 1 (personal decision) to to 10 (advice from others) what motivated your decision to quit.

Adding additional information would certainly be helpful.

Wow, it's almost like behavioral differences in women and men stem from evolutionary psychology.

Haidt's The Righteous Mind doesn't apportion moral foundations based on gender, not explicitly anyway, but it certainly seems that way.

Re: " This gender difference in the reaction to competition outcomes may help to explain why fewer women make it to the top in business and academia."

Actually, that doesn't prove that. What you would want to look at is the performance of the women who dropped out after one loss and match that to the career performance of a man who lost and continued.

Too bad the writers of this article didn't take a math or statistics course because, if they had, they would have been able to test the hypothesis had they set the problem up correctly.

Remember the study of the performance of the students who almost got in, but didn't get in, to Harvard. No difference in later outcomes.

Too bad the writers of this article didn't take a math or statistics course because, if they had, they would have been able to test the hypothesis had they set the problem up correctly.

The authors are men who flunked their stats / maths course, but continued doggedly despite all the test scores. The gender difference in apathy to proper treatment of a research subject may explain the proliferation of garbage studies that have flooded the academic circle.

'men who flunked their stats / maths course'

One fine drum to keep beating, Oskar.

You take up econ when you are not accepted in the other "serious" disciplines. I would know - I have experience :).

There are a few professions where you can keep your job even if you are wrong on everything, every time. Meteorologists, politicians, economists, and consultants are very high up on that list.

Women are less interested in competition than cooperation. There are competitive games, and there are cooperative games, just as there are competitive workplaces, and cooperative workplaces. It could be that the workplace culture in some fields is more highly competitive than is suited to women's tastes.

Personally, I prefer workplaces where people are focused on a shared goal, and aren't trying to climb over each other to the top of the management heap. Office politics sucks. If you're going to fight, fight over what's best for whatever project your working on, or the company, not over which person is the smartest.

"[A] classic experiment by Rapoport and Chammah in the 1960s ... reported that men paired with men cooperate almost twice as frequently as women paired with women. Our conceptual replication with Prisoner’s Dilemmas repeated over 300 rounds with no breaks, using more advanced, computerized methodology ... replicated the substantial gender difference, confirming, in the UK, a puzzling finding first reported in the US in the 1960s."

Possibly mediated by risk aversion and loss aversion; if trust is risky, then women will chose the less risky strategy if they are more risk averse, even if that is not "cooperative".

Also probably mediated by males viewing themselves as cooperating *against* the jailer. To explain:

Cooperation and competition are in some less meaningful salient distinguishing categories than women being attuned to kin-like relationships (me and my family, looking after our children from various environmental threats) and men to "battle group" like relationships (me and my team against some other team trying to get us).

In a situation where cooperation more resembles "battle groups", men are probably going to be better at cooperation and do it more, than women.

Also explains why more men are promoted beyond their competence.

No it doesn't. People generally are promoted when they do well at something. Promotions mean that they do something different, and they may not be able to do it well.

+1, being a good engineer, doesn't mean you'll be a good project manager, and being a good project manager doesn't mean you'll be a good account manager, etc. But most organizations don't have a process to send someone back to what they are good at, because promotions and positions are paired with pay.

Thd great weakness of this type of studies is that there is no good way of controlling for the gigantic confound that is everybody treating boys and girls quite differently from the time they are born to the time they die.

With current research I hesitate to make any generalixations about statistical biological cognition\behavior differences

Yes, but can't you look at it not as a confound, but simply part of the categories of "man" and "woman"?

Different due of systematically different treatment, but different nonetheless...

" In the Math Olympiad, girls, but not boys, who fail to make the second round are less likely to compete again one year later."

Does this mean that 100 percent of the boys who failed to make the second round in year 1 compete again in year 2? That seems unlikely.

The question is: less likely than what? I suppose, to try to answer my own question, one interpretation of this ambiguous statement is that boys who fail to reach the second round are just as likely *as a percentage of all boys who competed in the first round* (or *as a percentage of everyone who competed in the first round*?), to compete in the second round.

It is ambiguous. I read it as saying that wins and losses have no affect on the boys' willingness to compete one year later.

It'd be interesting to see how much effect this has on thinning female talent vs making female averages stronger than they should be.

If the 'bad'* women give up more easily than the "bad" males, then that should lead to the female average being better than it oughta be.

Also wonder if there would be a female giving up effect in things that stereotypically women care about more. I would suspect not. This possibly (probably?) doesn't reflect less female persistence in the face of adversity and greater male appetite for competitive relationships, but less female giving a shit about maths (even at an elite level!).

*which is to say, IMO competitor so all still amazing.

Yes. Let's see how many housewives give up on their tennis leagues because they lose.

I would like see this result replicated for other kinds of competitions. Perhaps mathematics is an outlier where males are just more interested and less apt to quit in the face of adversity.

This paper is also an example of how economists are often blind to social networks, and reinforcement effects.

How does persistence vary by the number of same sex cohorts engaged in the other words, if you are the only female on the math team, with the rest males, are you more likely to quit after one failure than if there were a number of other female friends on the math team who encouraged each other to persist.

Competition does not occur in isolation, it occurs in a social network, which may or may not be reinforcing.

“Suck it up and drive on”?

My friend has been substitute teaching at the high school. She likes to do robotics because it's easy. The kids are bright and self-directed. Nearly all boys - though not for lack of trying, from early on girls-only STEM camps and robotics teams are available in this district - but what's struck her is the degree to which the boys compete with one another every moment of class, whose robot does whatever the fastest, etc. - and it is not a display for girls.

What I wonder is, if you found that one sex was generally more competitive, and one less so, would you assume nature had made a foolish error and try to change that arrangement? Is that what your STEM learning would urge?

This is very bad for Netherland. Relatively the Dutch Males are also behaving similarly with respect to the Males of other countries. The OECD PISA survey has the accompanying student well being survey, one of the item is asking if they wanted to be the best. Out of all the surveyed countries Netherland came in with the least percentage, i.e. lack the drive to compete. Nevertheless the Dutch performs better when not under competitions. The German calls such behaviour after WW2 as the German Angst. This unwillingness to compete also correlated with other factors like grit, self-confidence, motivation, performance anxiety, etc. The raw results from the OECD PISA 2015 which has clear but complex pitch forks pattern. For majority of the countries the performance decreases with increasing competitiveness except for the 25% on the upper right pitch fork which thrive with competition (with noted patterns of being the descendents of Viking, Anglo-Saxon-Celt and EastAsian). (From spliting the data space objectively into 4 quadrants, the trend in the first quadrant is polar opposite to the rest).

Similar to the paper cited about Belief and Performance, I have the normalized proxy factor Confidence Quotient CQ = %WantToBeBest/PISAscore, the last few on the list are,

Rank CQ -Zscore Country
52 80.85 -1.28 DEU Germany
54 77.43 -1.5 FIN Finland
55 74.9 -1.67 CHE Switzerland
56 58.99 -2.73 JPN Japan
57 53.58 -3.09 NLD Netherlands

Germany and Japan still have their respective generational angst from losing WW2. Finland prides itself to have non-competitive school environments. Switzerland prides itself to be peace loving and the Dutch has the Peace Palace.

It is speculated that such behaviours might be partly due to genetics. If the PISA scores are ploted against the the variant of COMT normally known as the non-violence version of warrior gene which I prefer to call it the Grit gene, or better still the tiger mum gene (which have higher frequency in Chinese female), the V shape pattern is there but the countries on the pitch fork handle are not of interest to the genetics and the associate data are missing. The outlier is Japan which has similar DNA profiles as Korean and Chinese. There are studies which showed after some severe trauma like the World Trade Centers event (or losing WW2) the epigenetics can suppress the effects of some genes for a few generations.

competition is equal between male and female

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