Fri. Mar 31st, 2023
Focus on children makes mothers as competitive as fathers

Men’s competitiveness is pretty ingrained in our culture, with popular depictions of it spanning everything from sports to business to the PlayStation. And there are some studies that have shown that men are more competitive than women, but this effect has not been studied that deeply. A new article published in PNAS shows that the effects of gender on competitiveness disappear when the stakes of competition are related to the benefit of children, rather than personal gain. When children are at stake, women and men are equally competitive.

The study is based on the idea that women are not necessarily less competitive than men, but there are gender-specific spheres of competition. The authors hypothesized that one of those spheres involves offspring. To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked participants of both sexes to perform tasks under two different reward schemes. In the first reward scheme, participants received cash, a standard incentive in psychological experiments. In the second reward system, participants received a school bookstore voucher worth the same value. This voucher was a power of attorney for child benefit.

This study was conducted in China and all participants were parents of school-aged students. The authors believe that Chinese culture’s heavy emphasis on education makes it more likely that participants would view a “bookstore voucher” as something that would benefit their child. This expectation was confirmed by interviews with local teachers and parents, who agreed that Chinese participants were likely to use a school bookshop voucher to purchase educational books for their children.

Before the competition, subjects had to add together as many sets of five two-digit numbers as possible within three minutes. Participants were also allowed to choose one of two payment systems. In the first case, they received a fixed fee for a correct answer. The second, called the “tournament” option, was a payment system where contestants received twice as much payment for a correct answer, but only if they gave more correct solutions than a randomly selected contestant.

The researchers found that when the reward was cash, men were significantly more likely than women to opt for the tournament payment schedule. However, when the reward was a college bookstore voucher, both men and women had an equal chance of choosing the tournament payment scheme. Both genders changed their behavior to create this bit of equality, with women more likely to select tournament mode and men less so.

This study design allowed the researchers to track how each subject responded to the different conditions, a practice known as within-subject analysis, rather than simply testing groups of different subjects under different conditions. This means that the voucher-based reward system really induced a behavioral change in the participants as the same participants made different choices under different reward systems.

Self-evaluation of math skills also played a role in people’s thinking. Women who were highly proficient with math problems were 10 percent more likely to choose the tournament-style payment schedule under the voucher reward system. They also saw their income increase by eight and a half percent under these conditions, indicating that it is paying off. In comparison, both men and women with lower numeracy skills did not experience a significant difference in income under different conditions.

This leads the authors to conclude that the voucher-based reward system increases equity without sacrificing efficiency – it equalizes the impulse to compete for both sexes, without making it more cumbersome for either sex.

The authors conclude that their data show that thinking about the kids may cause more competition in mothers, but not in fathers. They also argue that this can be used for policy level interventions. Rewarding the children of working mothers for their mothers’ achievements could potentially reduce some of the widely documented inequality in the labor market. Perhaps fueling maternal instincts will lead working mothers to become more competitive.

It is not clear, of course, that their competitiveness is the problem, and this policy would do nothing about the competitive behavior of childless women.

PNAS2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1520235113 (About DOIs).

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.