Are men, by nature, really more competitive than women? Ray Fisman searched for answers in a recent Slate article – and he started with an account from a more dog-eat-dog sect of the American workplace:
“You’ve lost the warrior instinct,” explained my friend’s boss as he fired her after years of 100-hour work weeks.inflatable for sale inflatable water slides
Delivered to a female employee, the comment contained an undercurrent of sexism and, when combined with some of her on-the-job experiences, probably constituted what civil rights lawyers call an “actionable statement.” My friend, however, chalked it up to the macho, hyper-competitive environment of her chosen profession: investment banking.
The stereotype, Fisman says, is a classic — but what gives it gravity? What perpetuates the view that “men aggressively compete” where “women collaborate and nurture”? Why, it’s not just patriarchy, it’s research and experimentation!:
It’s … a view that’s been well-studied in recent years by experimental economists, researchers who, rather than simply observing economic activity out in the world, put subjects in labs and ask them to play economic “games” in a controlled environment. These economists have found that American men don’t disappoint, choosing to play more competitive games than female subjects (and sometimes performing better than women in competitive situations).
… researchers have found that the stereotype isn’t universal—in at least one society, women have stronger competitive drives than men. It appears that the warriors are made, not born.
(One society? One measly society?)
Well, if there can be one, just maybe there’s a chance those nurture-over-nature folks aren’t complete hacks. Maybe there’s a chance that — you guessed it — we socialized our males (and females) to behave a certain way for so long that it’s now taken as a given, built right in:
Like many gender differences, the “competitiveness gap” is taken as simply human nature. That is, at some point in our species’ distant past, competitive instincts were more important for males’ ability to survive and reproduce than for women’s. Yet in Western societies, we’ve also been raised to conform to a set of social norms and to frown upon those who defy them. From a young age, girls are dressed in pink, read princess stories, and instructed that aggression and assertiveness are unbecoming. Boys may remember “don’t play like a girl” as a standard schoolyard exhortation—from classmates and coaches alike—to play more aggressively.
However it came about, Fisman admits that the stereotype is pretty much true: According to experimental economists Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund, men are, on the whole, more competitive than women.
Fortunately, a band of researchers decided to look into whether that truth was really universal. Unlike Niederle and Vesterlund, these experimental economists decided to use participants “from the Maasai of Tanzania and the Khasi of northeast India.” They found that the “male warrior” stereotype stood true with the Maasai. The experiments involving the Khasi, however, told a different story:
… the Khasi are a matrilineal culture, in which family life centers around the mother’s house and both inheritance and clan membership are passed on through daughters. …
Why Khasi women are relatively competitive is a matter of speculation. The authors suggest that it may stem from the relatively uncommon practice of female-directed household decision-making and inheritance. In the Khasi society, women who learn to compete for resources get to keep the fruits of their efforts, and also pass on the wealth they generate to their daughters. Regardless of the underlying cause, the work of [the authors] proves that the Western stereotype of the male competitor isn’t universal: The male “warrior instinct” is a matter of socialization rather than instinct. (More recent work by Jane Zhang, an economics doctoral student at the University of California-Berkeley, further bolsters this view—in a set of experiments she ran in China last summer, Zhang found that neither gender had a stronger preference for competition in the communities she studied.)
So there! Probably more than one society! Pardon my excitement … like Fisman, my hope is that if this competition stereotype is, in fact, a product of socialization, maybe we can work to equalize things. Although I like his other idea, too:
… many have claimed that if women ran the world, there wouldn’t be any wars, and anyone who has read testosterone-driven Wall Street accounts like Liar’s Poker, or more recently House of Cards, might question whether all-out competition is the best way of managing our economy. If competition is nurture rather than nature, perhaps we’d all be better off if we lost a little of our warrior instincts.