Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 719–739 | Cite as

Lay beliefs about competition: Scale development and gender differences

  • Selin KesebirEmail author
  • Sun Young Lee
  • Andrew J. Elliot
  • Madan M. Pillutla
Original Paper


Women are less competitive than men in most contexts studied. This difference has been linked to the gender gap in socio-economic outcomes. To examine whether this gender difference is linked to differential beliefs about competition, we developed a scale measuring lay beliefs about competition and tested whether these beliefs account for gender differences in competitive attitudes and behaviors. A mini meta-analysis (N = 2331) of responses to this scale shows that men attribute more positive outcomes to competition than women. In particular, men are more likely to believe that competition improves performance, builds character, and leads to creative problem-solving. In contrast, the gender differences are smaller, less robust, and inconsistent for the different negative outcomes attributed to competition, such as encouraging unethical behavior, hurting self-esteem, and damaging relationships. We also show in two studies that only positive lay beliefs about competition predict competitive attitudes and behaviors, and account for (some of) the gender difference in competitiveness. We discuss possible reasons that women and men hold different beliefs about competition and the implications of these differences for the optimal design of social and organizational structures.


Competitiveness Gender Lay theories Gender gap 



We thank Dan Cable and Michael Parke for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Organisational Behaviour Subject AreaLondon Business SchoolLondonUK
  2. 2.UCL School of ManagementUniversity College London (UCL)LondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Clinical and Social PsychologyUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA

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