Men are more likely than women to seek jobs in which competition with coworkers affects pay rates, a preference that might help explain persistent pay differences between men and women, a study from the University of Chicago shows. The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, tested whether differences between men’s and women’s interest in competition actually affect their job choices.
The research team created two advertisements on Internet job boards and posted jobs for administrative assistants, the most common job in the United States. One ad, which was gender-neutral, described the job responsibilities as preparing reports based on news stories and fulfilling typical office tasks. The second ad, for a sports news assistant, was similar, except that the job would entail writing reports about sports stories.
The team then presented respondents with additional information to describe different forms of compensation. Some applicants were told the jobs paid $15 an hour. Others were told the pay was based on individual competition, with a base salary of $13.50 and a $3 bonus depending on how he or she did in comparison to other workers. Another package offered a $12 hourly base pay with a $6 bonus if the employee outperformed other workers. And others were told the jobs had a competition-based wage but that comparisons would be based on the productivity of people working in teams.
Of the 6,779 people who responded to the ads, 2,702 applied once they knew the wage structure. Those included 1,566 women and 1,136 men. (About 20 of the applicants were actually hired.) When the salary potential was most dependent on competition, men were 94 percent more likely to apply than women. The study found that although women were much less likely to pursue jobs where individual competition was a factor, the deterring effect on women could be overcome by having workers compete in teams rather than individually.
Researchers say socialization of women and men may play a factor in the gender differences in the way men and women respond to pay incentives based on competition. Boys receive more encouragement growing up to be competitive, particularly in sports, while girls frequently are encouraged to be more cooperative.