Women and competition
I generally like to mention Alfie Kohn’s fascinating book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, which points out the (many) downsides of competition, particularly when compared to cooperation. (Inexpensive secondhand editions at the link.) Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have a new book out, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, and Salon has a lengthy excerpt:
For the first time in human history, women and men commonly compete side by side. Most of the aggressive, ambitious, daring things we attempt to accomplish are done together.
But do men and women compete the same?
Many recent findings in scientific research reveal gender differences – differences in when they choose to compete, differences in risk taking during competition, different responses to the stress of competition, and different strategies for dealing with that stress. Men are quicker to bond with teammates; women are more willing to befriend competitors. Women are less rattled by being ranked, especially when that ranking isn’t near the top. Men are overconfident of their abilities, while women underattribute success to their own skills. Men get more competitive under time pressure, while women get less competitive under time pressure. Men rate their teammates and competitors lower in ability – women rate them higher.
But these are all averages; they don’t necessarily apply to any one man or woman. So the question remains whether these average differences are truly meaningful, especially compared to the broader spectrum of individual differences. Are those scientists making a mountain out of a molehill here? Are the nuanced differences in competitive style significant enough to actually be helpful in maximizing their performance?
Working with this science can feel like working with flammable compounds or radioactive materials. Initially, we were very reluctant to entertain the line of inquiry. But after years of careful study, and having interviewed the scholars whose work is most compelling, we’ve come to conclude that some of the research is simply too important to ignore.
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In 2010, Tommy Sowers decided to run for Congress. The question was, from which district?
Sowers, then a professor at West Point, had served two tours in Iraq; he had been an Army Ranger and a Green Beret. Between going to college at Duke and his various military posts, the decorated war hero had a number of legitimate places he could call home.
Eventually, Sowers decided on moving to his childhood home of Rolla, Mo.; he’d run as a candidate for the state’s eighth congressional district. But the Eighth was likely the most conservative congressional district in the nation. No Democrat had won that seat in 30 years.
“There was just no talking him out of it,” recalled Democratic Party strategist Paul Begala.
But it wasn’t even close. Sowers only received 29 percent of the vote.
One has to ask: was this daring, or was it foolish?
All over the country, there are candidates willing to take on such long odds. But, like Tommy Sowers, they are almost all men. Even though studies have shown that when women run for office, they raise just as much money as men, and they win just as often as men – very few women are willing to put their names on the ballot. According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, only four women filed out the forms for a gubernatorial run in 2012.
In fact, even when you go down the food chain to survey the kinds of people who might one day run for office in the future – lawyers, businesspeople, community activists, educators – and you ask them if they’ve ever even considered running, just contemplated it, men are 35 percent more likely to have considered it.
The question is why. Elections are intense, grueling competitions, held in public. Is there something about competing that scares talented women away? That’s been the prevailing theory. But new science – from a spectrum of domains inside and outside politics – reveals that the real reason for the candidate-gap is gender differences in how women and men judge risk.
Sarah Fulton, a professor of political science at Texas A&M, surveyed 835 men and women currently serving in their state legislatures, trying to see how many of them were considering a race for a seat in the U.S. Congress. She also asked them what their odds of winning were.
Analyzing the state representatives’ responses, Fulton concluded that ambitious male state legislators will run for Congress if they have any chance to win. Ambitious female legislators will run for Congress if they have a good chance to win.
The tipping point seems to be around . . .
Continue reading. Women are more sensible than men. No surprise there.