Thursday, May 26, 2005

DNA: Dames are Not Aggressive

DNA: Dames are Not Aggressive

"Dames are not aggressive" is a classic Cliff Clavin quote from Cheers. Of course, as with the critical concept of the unreliable narrator, just because Cliff said it doesn't mean that it can't be true.

John Tierney's New York Times opinion piece highlights how controlled experimental studies show that given a choice, women are less likely than men to participate in competitive tournaments.

The experiments were designed so that the subjects were completing math problems for money. First they worked alone, getting paid $.50 for each correct answer, then they participated in 4-person tournaments, with the winner getting $2 per correct answer while the losers got nothing.

Women performed as well as men in both formats. However, when given the choice, most women chose not to compete in the tournament, even if they had done well. Most men chose to compete, even if they had done poorly.

The fact that men like competition is hardly a shock. Just look at our willingness to compete with our friends on just about anything. One game we came up with in college was seeing how long we could grip a hot cup of tea in our hands before the pain forced us to stop.

You would never find women playing such a game.

But the implication of this finding is that women will tend to opt out of highly competitive occupations, which in our economy, tend to be the most highly compensated.

Sexist? Unfair? Who knows. But it's never a good idea to pretend that such tendencies don't exist.

Somewhere, Larry Summers is slapping his forehead.

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