Can Simple Advice Eliminate the Gender Gap in Willingness to Compete?

Simple advice can be a powerful and effective tool in reducing gender differences in willingness to compete.


Existing literature suggests that one reason that women and men differ in their labor market outcomes is because of the difference in their willingness to compete. Since job applications and promotions are often competitive, this gender gap has important implications for career advancement for women.

Previous studies have attempted to close this gender gap by providing highly personalized performance feedback and competition-entry advice, which has been proven to be a somewhat effective strategy.

Taking a different approach, researchers in this study investigated whether giving the same simple piece of advice to all competitors could be an effective and cost-efficient way to close the gender gap in willingness to compete in a lab and field study (by telling participants that women tend to under-compete and men tend to over-compete, and that both sexes would do better in competitions if women competed more and men competed less).

Researchers also explored whether the wording of the advice, in terms of whether it highlights competitiveness, risk preferences, or overconfidence among men and women who have previously participated in such experiments, changes the effect of the information intervention on the willingness to compete.


Simple advice (that makes women and men more aware of the gender gap in the willingness to compete) decreases the gender gap in willingness to compete; makes high-performers more likely to enter and win competitions; and has a similar effect on willingness to compete whether the advice emphasizes the role of risk preferences, overconfidence, or competitiveness.

  • In the lab study, simple advice reduced the gender gap in the willingness to compete by 38% or 9.8 percentage points
  • In the field study, providing simple advice made men 30 percentage points less likely to compete while it made women 29 percentage points more likely to compete, reversing the initial gender difference of 32 percentage points in the willingness to compete almost entirely.
  • Advice made high performers 5.4 percentage points more likely to compete in the lab study and 25 percentage points more likely to compete in the field study.
  • Small variations in the wording of the advice, emphasizing the differences in competitiveness, risk preferences, and overconfidence of previous female and male participants does not seem to have a major effect on its effectiveness.
    • Across the three kinds of wordings in the lab study, advice increased female willingness to compete by 10.6 percentage points and had no effect on men’s average willingness to compete.

In many countries, increasing women’s representation in high-powered, traditionally male dominated professions remains an important policy goal. Increasing women’s willingness to compete through simple advice may be a cost-effective way of decreasing this female underrepresentation.


In this paper, the authors report the findings from two experiments – a lab study with 374 (189 female and 185 male) German university students and a field study with 268 (151 female and 117 male) high school students. In both the studies, participants solve simple addition problems in various rounds.In the first round they receive piece-rate pay for every problem solved correctly, and in the second round, they compete against others in a winner-takes-all tournament style for payment. Information about performance and earnings is only disclosed at the end of the experiment.

For the third round, participants in the lab study are asked to choose between a piece-rate and tournament payment and then told about the gender gap in willingness to compete, with the aim to advise women to compete more and men to compete less. Participants can then revise their initial decision. In the field study, this information is disclosed to the participants before they choose. Further, the dissemination of this information is randomized across individuals in the lab study versus lecture groups in the field study. Measures of risk preferences and self-confidence are elicited in both the experiments through three (lab study) and two additional (field study) rounds thereafter.


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