Even though the provision of equal opportunities for men and women has been a priority in many countries, large gender differences prevail in competitive high-ranking positions. Suggested explanations include discrimination and differences in preferences and human capital. In this paper we present experimental evidence in support of an additional factor: women may be less effective than men in competitive environments, even if they are able to perform similarly in noncompetitive environments. In a laboratory experiment we observe, as we increase the competitiveness of the environment, a significant increase in performance for men, but not for women. This results in a significant gender gap in performance in tournaments, while there is no gap when participants are paid according to piece rate. This effect is stronger when women have to compete against men than in single-sex competitive environments: this suggests that women may be able to perform in competitive environments per se.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
* We thank Daniel Brodkey, Stefano Della Vigna, Gerhard Orosel, Nikita Piankov, Alvin Roth, Lise Vesterlund, and seminar participants at numerous universities. This work was financially supported by the Binational Science Foundation and by the German Israeli Foundation.