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Men Sometimes Outcompete Women But
They Don’t Always Outperform Them Reveals University of Miami Study

Coral Gables, Fla. – April 18, 2011 - We often think of men as more competitive than women, but the picture is more complicated, suggests recent research co-authored by Christopher Cotton, assistant professor of economics at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. While, initially, males perform better in some areas when they believe they are in a competition, that advantage disappears quickly.

Cotton and his colleagues had more than 500 primary-school students participate in up to five rounds of competitive math quizzes. Here is what they found:

  • During the first round of competition, boys performed significantly better than girls. That was true even when the researchers controlled for math ability based on standardized test scores.
  • In rounds two through five, however, the boys performed no better than the girls. In fact, there was some evidence that boys performed worse.
If the researchers told the students that the competition was “not a race,” or if they substituted language-arts questions for math, there was no male advantage.

“The implications are that male competitive advantage depends on the context, that it exists only for certain tasks, and that even when it does exist, it vanishes after an initial period,” says Cotton.

What does that suggest about the male-female competitive gap in the workplace? Cotton believes it rules out several past explanations, such as male overconfidence and misperceptions of relative ability. Instead, he offers a few possibilities:

  • Males are initially less risk-averse than females.
  • Males at least initially care more about winning or gain greater enjoyment from competition.

As a result, males are more likely to enter competitive fields and compete against co-workers for advancement.

Cotton contends that efforts to eliminate gender-based achievement gaps should focus on encouraging female participation in competitive settings. One way would be by increasing exposure to competition through laws such as Title IX, which mandates equal opportunity for sports activities in schools that receive federal funding.

About the University of Miami School of Business Administration

The University of Miami School of Business Administration is a leading business school, offering undergraduate business, full-time MBA, Executive MBA, MS, PhD and non-degree executive education programs. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Miami, the School is located in a major hub of international trade and commerce and acclaimed for the global orientation and diversity of its faculty, students and curriculum. The School delivers its programs at its main campus in Coral Gables as well as at locations across Florida and abroad. More information about the University of Miami School of Business Administration can be found at www.bus.miami.edu

Release excerpted from a story in the spring 2011 BusinessMiami.

Media Contact:

Tracy Simon
University of Miami School of Business Administration
PH:  267-679-2774
E:  tsimon@bus.miami.edu or tlsimonPR@gmail.com

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