Social Factors that Influence Gender Gap in Competitiveness

We’ve talked about gender gap in competitiveness in business week’s presentation. Research shows that in general, men are more competitive than women when competing against others. To help demonstrate the nature of the gender gap, studies are done on children to measure their competitiveness. It is found that the gender gap generally arises around puberty. This suggests that the gap is likely due to social factors instead of biological factors.

The three main factors that come into play are risk aversion, stereotype threat, and social role. Risk aversion correlates with competition aversion, as all competitions involve the risk of losing. The robust finding is that women are more risk averse than men in most tasks and environments. An explanation for this difference is confidence levels. Literatures suggest that men are more confident in uncertain situations than women. If men believe they are more likely to win, then they will be more likely to enter competition.

Secondly, women tend to face stereotype threats more often than men due to the social structure. In Western patriarchal societies, men hold primary political power and predominate roles in the society. Men are advertised to be more competent and powerful. Therefore, women tend to avoid competition with men in areas where they think they will loose, disregarding their actual performance (Günther et al., 2010).

The third factor is the social role theory. The theory states that through the socialization process, people learn how to behave in social situations. Gender differences in social behavior can be traced back to sexual division of labor, where men were the primary family providers. Men tend to be more assertive and competitive, as they have to compete with other men for access to women and compete with other animals for food sources. Even in situations where gender is irrelevant, men and women may still act differently due to their gender differentiated roles (Colarelli et al., 2006). This can explain why men enter into competition more often then women.

In conclusion, all three social factors build on each other to create the gender gap in competitiveness. For example, the gender differentiated social roles lead to stereotype threat about women’s competitiveness, which makes women more risk averse. This is important as organizations mainly use competition, especially competing with others, to make decisions on promotions and bonus payments. For organizations that want to even the playing field, they might want to consider encouraging cooperation instead of competition. This can further potentially increase mental health of employees, because as Cheryl25899 mentioned, competition can induce negative side effects such as anxiety, cheating, and bribery.


  1. Hello, this was a very insightful read! This was a really in-depth analysis on the gender gap in competition.
    The social role theory suggests that women may act more passive because of stereotypes that exist in society. This makes me wonder why these stereotypes exist in the first place. Do you think that women are innately more passive than men, and this is why these stereotypes were created in the first place? Or do you think that women and men are equal in terms of competitiveness, only that they focus on different types of competition (eg. self-competition vs competing with others)?
    Thanks again for this post!


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