December 2020

IZA DP No. 13991: Gender Differences in Performance under Competition: Is There a Stereotype Threat Shadow?

The gender gap in income and leadership positions in many domains of our society is an undisputed pervasive phenomenon. One explanation for the disadvantaged position of women put forward in the economic and psychology literature is the weaker response of women to competitive incentives. Despite the large amount of literature trying to explain this fact, the precise mechanisms behind the gender difference in competitive responsiveness are still not fully uncovered. In this paper, we use laboratory experiments to study the potential role of stereotype threat on the response of men and women to competitive incentives in mixed-gender competition. We use a real effort math task to induce an implicit stereotype threat against women in one treatment. In additional treatments we, respectively, reinforce this stereotype threat and induce a stereotype threat against men. In contrast to much of the literature we do not observe that women are less competitive than men, neither when there is an implicit nor when there is an explicit stereotype threat against women. We attribute this to two factors which differentiates our experiment from previous ones. We control, first, for inter-individual performance differences using a within-subject design, and, second, for risk differences between non-competitive and competitive environments by making the former risky. We do find an adverse stereotype threat effect on the performance of men when there is an explicit stereotype threat against them. In that case any positive performance effect of competition is nullified by the stereotype threat. Overall, our results indicate that a stereotype threat has negative competitive performance effects only if there is information contradicting an existing stereotype. This suggests that the appropriate intervention to prevent the adverse effect of stereotype threat in performance is to avoid any information referring to the stereotype.