Meeting thirteen (12th June): Competition and Girls

Alison Booth and Patrick Nolen, “Choosing to Compete: How Different Are Girls and Boys?”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 4027. [Download .PDF, 288 kB]

Abstract: Using a controlled experiment, we examine the role of nurture in explaining the stylized fact that women shy away from competition. Our subjects (students just under 15 years of age) attend publicly-funded single-sex and coeducational schools. We find robust differences between the competitive choices of girls from single-sex and coed schools. Moreover, girls from single-sex schools behave more like boys even when randomly assigned to mixed-sex experimental groups. Thus it is untrue that the average female avoids competitive behaviour more than the average male. This suggests that observed gender differences might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.

This paper is rather long, but a great deal of it refers to the design of the experiment. Pages 22-37 contain the paper’s references and deal with experimental design and statistical results and are secondary to the paper’s conclusions. The key section of the paper is “Section V – Choosing to Compete”.

Key Conclusions:

  • Single sex schoolgirls scored higher in the piece-rate round than coed schoolgirls. In the mandatory round there was no difference between single sex and coed schoolgirls.
  • A girl who attends a single-sex school is 42 percentage points more likely to choose to enter the tournament than a girl from a coed school and “it would seem that a single-sex educational background has the potential to change the way women view tournaments.”
  • A significant gender gap exists only between students from coed schools. Boys and girls from single-sex schools choose to compete equally frequently. Girls from coed schools at 71 percentage points less likely to enter the tournament than boys from coed schools but girls from single-sex schools enter as often as boys from coed schools: “there is no signi…cant difference in the probabilty of a single-sex girl and a coed boy chosing to enter the tournament.”
  • A girl from either a single-sex or coed school randomly assigned to an all-female group is 16 percentage points more likely to choose to enter the tournament than a girl randomly assigned to a coed group, “suggesting that the environment in which a girl is placed affects whether or not she chooses to compete.”

Discussion Points:

  • Should we encourage the adoption of single-sex groups for competitive work in coeducational schools?
  • How can we encourage girls in coeducational schools to be more competitive? And should we encourage these girls to be more competitive.
  • To what extent does the sex of their teacher impact upon girls’ decisions to compete or to take a subject at A Level?

Please suggest further discussion points in the comments below.


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2 Responses to Meeting thirteen (12th June): Competition and Girls

  1. Anon says:

    Loving the fact that 2 out of the 3 questions regard girls and only girls. The final question is also entirely unrelated to the “key conclusions” detailed in the summary.

  2. John says:

    This paper sounds very interesting. I’d love to participate in the chat, but since I live in the states, the time is usually inconvenient for me. I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to use storify or some other twitter archiving tool to save the chats and post them here on the blog for others to read. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would appreciate being able to read a transcript.

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