Experimental Economics

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 154–172 | Cite as

Gender and competition in adolescence: task matters

  • Anna Dreber
  • Emma von Essen
  • Eva Ranehill


We look at gender differences among adolescents in Sweden in preferences for competition, altruism and risk. For competitiveness, we explore two different tasks that differ in associated stereotypes. We find no gender difference in competitiveness when comparing performance under competition to that without competition. We further find that boys and girls are equally likely to self-select into competition in a verbal task, but that boys are significantly more likely to choose to compete in a mathematical task. This gender gap diminishes and becomes non-significant when we control for actual performance, beliefs about relative performance, and risk preferences, or for beliefs only. Girls are also more altruistic and less risk taking than boys.


Competitiveness Risk preferences Altruism Adolescents Gender differences Experiment 

JEL Classification

C91 D03 J16 



We are grateful for comments from Johan Almenberg, Simon Gächter, Uri Gneezy, Magnus Johannesson, Christoph Mathys, Astri Muren, Robert Östling, David G. Rand, Roberto Weber, the editor David Cooper, two anonymous referees, and seminar participants at WAPPP at the Harvard Kennedy School, MOVE Workshop on Gender Differences in Competitiveness and Risk Taking, Stockholm School of Economics and Stockholm University, as well as help with the data collection from Aron Backström, Peter Gerlach and Karin Hederos Eriksson. Financial support from the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS) and the Carl Silfvén Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

10683_2013_9361_MOESM1_ESM.docx (55 kb)
(DOCX 55 kB)


  1. Almås, I., Cappelen, A. W., Salvanes, K. G., Sørensen, E., & Tungodden, B. (2012). Willingness to compete: family matters. Department of Economics, NHH, Discussion paper, 23/2012. Google Scholar
  2. Andersen, S., Ertac, S., Gneezy, U., List, J., Maximiano, & Gender, S. F. (2013). Competitiveness and socialization at a young age: evidence from a matrilineal and a patriarchal society. Review of Economics and Statistics. Google Scholar
  3. Apicella, C. L., Dreber, A., Campbell, B., Gray, P., Hoffman, M., & Little, A. C. (2008). Testosterone and financial risk-taking. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 385–390. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beilock, S. L., Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., & Levine, S. C. (2010). Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(5), 1860–1863. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benenson, J. F., Pascoe, J., & Radmore, N. (2007). Children’s altruistic behavior in the dictator game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(3), 168–175. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bertrand, M. (2010). In New perspectives on gender. Handbook of labor economics, vol. 4, (Part b) (pp. 1543–1590). Chap. 17. Google Scholar
  7. Blake, P. R., & Rand, D. G. (2010). Currency value moderates equity preference among young children. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 210–218. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Booth, A. L., & Nolen, P. J. (2012a). Choosing to compete: how different are girls and boys? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 81(2). Google Scholar
  9. Booth, A. L., & Nolen, P. J. (2012b). Gender differences in risk behaviour: does nurture matter? Economic Journal, 122(558), F56–F78. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bosch-Domènech, A., & Silvestre, J. (2012). Measuring risk aversion with lists: a new bias. Barcelona GSE Working Paper Series, Working Paper #634. Google Scholar
  11. Borghans, L., Golsteyn, B. H. H., Heckman, J. J., & Meijers, H. (2013). Gender differences in risk aversion and ambiguity aversion. Journal of the European Economic Association, 7(2–3), 649–658. Google Scholar
  12. Boschini, A., Dreber, A., von Essen, E., Muren, A., & Ranehill, E. (2012). Gender and preferences: a study on a simple random sample of the Swedish population. Working paper. Google Scholar
  13. Brañas-Garza, P., & Rustichini, A. (2011). Organizing effects of testosterone and economic behavior: not just risk taking. PLoS ONE 6(12). Google Scholar
  14. Buser, T. (2012). The impact of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives on competitiveness. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83(1), 1–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Buser, T., Niederle, M., & Oosterbeek, H. (2012). Gender, competitiveness and career choices. NBER Working Paper Series, w18576. Google Scholar
  16. Cárdenas, J.-C., Dreber, A., von Essen, E., & Ranehill, E. (2012). Gender differences in competitiveness and risk taking: comparing children in Colombia and Sweden. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83(1), 11–24. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Charles, M., & Grusky, D. B. (2004). Occupational ghettos: the worldwide segregation of women and men. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Google Scholar
  18. Croson, R., & Gneezy, U. (2009). Gender differences in preferences. Journal of Economic Literature, 47(2), 1–27. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cvencek, D., Meltzoff, A. N., & Greenwald, A. G. (2011). Math–gender stereotypes in elementary school children. Child Development, 82(3), 766–779. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dahlbom, L., Jakobsson, A., Jakobsson, N., & Kotsadam, A. (2011). Gender and overconfidence: are girls really overconfident? Applied Economics Letters, 18(4), 325–327. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Datta Gupta, N., Poulsen, A., & Villeval, M.-C. (2011). Gender matching and competitiveness: experimental evidence. Economic Inquiry, 51(1), 816–835. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dohmen, T., Falk, A., Huffman, D., Sunde, U., Schupp, J., & Wagner, G. G. (2011). Individual risk attitudes: measurement, determinants and behavioral consequences. Journal of the European Economic Association, 9(3), 522–550. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dreber, A., von Essen, E., & Ranehill, E. (2011). Outrunning the gender gap: boys and girls compete equally. Experimental Economics, 14(4), 567–582. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Eckel, C., & Grossman, P. (1996). Altruism in anonymous dictator games. Games and Economic Behavior, 16, 181–191. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eckel, C., & Grossman, P. (2008a). Men, women and risk aversion: experimental evidence. In C. Plott & V. Smith (Eds.), Handbook on experimental economics results (pp. 1063–1071). New York: Elsevier. Google Scholar
  26. Eckel, C., & Grossman, P. (2008b). Differences in the economic decisions of men and women: experimental evidence. In C. Plott & V. Smith (Eds.), Handbook on experimental economics results (pp. 509–519). New York: Elsevier. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Eckel, C. C., Grossman, P. J., Johnson, C. A., de Oliveira, A. C. M., Rojas, C., & Wilson, R. K. (2011). Social norms of sharing in high school: teen giving in the dictator game. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 80(3), 603–612. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Eckel, C. C., Grossman, P. J., Johnson, C. A., de Oliveira, A. C. M., Rojas, C., & Wilson, R. K. (2012). School environment and risk preferences: experimental evidence. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 45(3), 265–292. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Engel, C. (2011). Dictator games: a meta study. Experimental Economics, 14(4), 583–610. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Favara, M. (2012). The cost of acting “girly”: gender stereotypes and educational choices. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7037. Google Scholar
  31. Fehr-Duda, H., de Gennaro, M., & Schubert, R. (2006). Gender, financial risk, and probability weights. Theory and Decision, 60(2–3), 283–313. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Flory, J., Leibbrandt, A., & List, J. (2010). Do competitive work places deter female workers? A large-scale natural field experiment on gender differences in job-entry decisions. NBER Working Paper Series, w16546. Google Scholar
  33. Gneezy, U., & Rustichini, A. (2004). Gender and competition at a young age. The American Economic Review, 94(2), 377–381. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gneezy, U., Niederle, M., & Rustichini, A. (2003). Performance in competitive environments: gender differences. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(3), 1049–1074. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gong, B., & Yang, C.-L. (2012). Gender differences in risk attitudes: field experiments on the Matrilineal Mosuo and the Patriarchal Yi. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83(1), 59–65. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grosse, N. D., & Reiner, G. (2010). Explaining gender differences in competitiveness: gender-task stereotypes. Jena Economic Research Papers, 2010–017. Google Scholar
  37. Guiso, L., Monte, F., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2008). Culture, Gender, and Math-Science, 320(2880), 1164–1165. Google Scholar
  38. Gummerum, M., Hanoch, Y., Keller, M., Parsons, K., & Hummel, A. (2010). Preschoolers‘ allocations in the dictator game: the role of moral emotions. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31(1), 25–34. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Günther, C., Arslan Ekinici, N., Schwieren, C., & Strobel, M. (2009). Women can’t jump?—An experiment on competitive attitudes and stereotype threat. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 75(3), 395–401. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Harbaugh, W. T., Krause, K., & Vesterlund, L. (2002). Risk attitudes of children and adults: choices over small and large probability gains and losses. Experimental Economics, 5(1), 53–84. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Harbaugh, W. T., Krause, K., & Liday, S. G. (2003). Bargaining by children. Unpublished manuscript, University of Oregon. Google Scholar
  42. Hausmann, R., Tyson, L., & Zahidi, S. (2010). The global gender gap report. World Economic Forum. Geneve. Google Scholar
  43. Joensen, J. S., & Nielsen, H. S. (2013). Math and gender: is math a route to a high-powered career? IZA Discussion Paper 7164. Google Scholar
  44. Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673–676. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mayr, U., Wozniak, D., Davidson, C., Kuhns, D., & Harbaugh, B. (2012). Competitiveness across the life span: the feisty fifties. Psychology and Aging, 27(2), 278–285. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nosek, B. A., & Smyth, F. L. (2011). Implicit social cognitions predict sex differences in math engagement and achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1125–1156. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. (2007). Do women shy away from competition? Do men compete too much? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 1067–1101. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. (2010). Explaining the gender gap in math test scores: the role of competition. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24(2), 129–144. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Niederle, M., & Yestrumskas, A. H. (2008). Gender differences in seeking challenges: the role of institutions. NBER Working Paper Series, w13922. Google Scholar
  50. Örs, E., Frederic, P., & Eloic, P. (2008). Performance gender-gap: does competition matter? CEPR Working Paper 6891. Google Scholar
  51. Sapienza, P., Zingales, L., & Maestripieri, D. (2009). Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106, 15268–15273. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Savikhin, A. (2011). Is there a gender gap in preschoolers’ competitiveness? An experiment in the U.S. Mimeo. Google Scholar
  53. Schipper, B. C. (2012). Sex hormones and choice under risk. Mimeo. Google Scholar
  54. Shurchkov, O. (2012). Under pressure: gender differences in output quality and quantity under competition and time constraints. Journal of the European Economic Association, 10(5), 1189–1213. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sutter, M., & Rützler, D. (2010). Gender differences in competition emerge early in life. IZA Discussion Paper 5015. Google Scholar
  56. Sutter, M., Kocher, M. G., Rützler, D., & Trautmann, S. T. (2013). Impatience and uncertainty: experimental decisions predict adolescents’ field behavior. The American Economic Review, 103(1), 510–531. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wozniak, D., Harbaugh, W., & Mayr, U. (2010). Choices about competition: differences by gender and hormonal fluctuations, and the role of relative performance feedback. MPRA Paper 21097. Google Scholar
  58. Yovanoff, P., Duesbery, L., Alonzo, J., & Tindal, G. (2005). Grade-level invariance of a theoretical causal structure predicting reading comprehension with vocabulary and oral reading fluency. Educational Measurement, Issues and Practice, 24(3), 4–12. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zethraeus, N., Kocoska-Maras, L., Ellingsen, T., von Schoultz, B., Lindén Hirschberg, A., & Johannesson, M. (2009). A randomized trial of the effect of estrogen and testosterone on economic behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106, 6535–6538. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zhang, J. (2010). Do girls in China compete just as much as boys? Evidence from an experiment that predicts educational choice. Mimeo. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsStockholm School of EconomicsStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations