Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'll Tell You What Women Want. . .

Yesterday's New York Times column titled "What Women Want" by John Tierney was the most emailed column of the day.

In an experiment in Pittsburgh, two economists paid men and women to add five numbers in their heads. At first they worked individually, doing as many sums as they could in five minutes and receiving 50 cents for each correct answer. Then they competed in four-person tournaments, with the winner getting $2 per correct answer and the losers getting nothing.

On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round - take the piece rate or compete in a tournament - most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst.

Muriel Niederle of Stanford and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh concluded that the gender gap isn't due to women's insecurities about their abilities. It is due to different appetites for competition.

"Even in tasks where they do well, women seem to shy away from competition, whereas men seem to enjoy it too much," Professor Niederle said. "The men who weren't good at this task lost a little money by choosing to compete, and the really good women passed up a lot of money by not entering tournaments they would have won."

Tierney provides a Summersesque argument:
You can argue that this difference is due to social influences, although I suspect it's largely innate, a byproduct of evolution and testosterone. Whatever the cause, it helps explain why men set up the traditional corporate ladder as one continual winner-take-all competition - and why that structure no longer makes sense.

So, we are to conclude that the reason women aren't equal is because they don't really want to be equal in the first place.

This, based on one unpublished study of unknown sampling (size and source -- what population was experimented? College students?) with fairly low stakes.

I'll tell you what THIS woman wants: better New York Times columnists! Get rid of John Tierney and David Brooks and hire a couple of women!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No kidding. How about Ehrenreich?

You are right about the test variables. Jeez, nearly 25 years ago, when I was a poor struggling college student, I signed up to be a paid test subject. I was in an assortment of studies, including one similar to Tierney's referenced test. I was paired up with another young woman, and we each had a little control panel with a joystick. We quickly understood that we could control the bar on the monitor two ways: by fighting with one another, one of us would earn more money than the other. By cooperating, we'd each make more money than either of us would have made otherwise.

Yeah, sitting there through the series of tests, cooperating quietly was boring. But we needed the money.

I know for sure it would have been a totally different story if one of us could have made significantly more money by competing for it. I mean, damn, it's just sensible. That study doesn't prove women are innately less competitive. It may indicate that men tend to be significantly less sensible.