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«Rodney J. Garratt, Catherine Weinberger and Nick Johnson University of California Santa Barbara July 2010 This article is forthcoming in Economic ...»

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The State Street Mile:

Age and Gender Differences in Competition-Aversion in the Field

Rodney J. Garratt, Catherine Weinberger and Nick Johnson

University of California Santa Barbara

July 2010

This article is forthcoming in Economic Inquiry.

Abstract: Gender differences in “competitiveness,” previously documented in laboratory

experiments, are hypothesized to play a role in a wide array of economic outcomes. The current

paper provides evidence of competition-aversion in a natural setting somewhere between the simplicity of a laboratory experiment and the full complexity and ambiguity of a labor market.

The “State Street Mile” race offers both male and female participants a choice between two different levels of competition. Large, systematic age and gender differences are observed in the relationship between true ability and the decision to enter the more competitive elite race.

Overall, qualified women and older runners are far less likely than qualified young men to enter an elite race with prizes. However, the fastest young women unanimously enter the more competitive elite race. Therefore, while we confirm age and gender differences in competitiveness in our field setting, the economic consequences to capable young women are rather small.

JEL Codes: J14, J16, J70, M51 The authors thank Ted Bergstrom, Gary Charness and Megan Riker-Rheinschild.

Introduction Gender differences in “competitiveness” are hypothesized to play a role in a wide array of economic outcomes, including the low representation of women among fortune 500 CEO’s (Bertrand and Hallock 2001, Niederle and Vesterlund 2007). While psychologists have a long history of documenting the reluctance of girls or women to enter competitions, economists have only recently begun to study this phenomenon. Psychologists have previously emphasized the tendency of women to underestimate their future performance on a number of different tasks (Deaux 1979, Pallier 2003).1 Careful experimental studies by economists reveal that, in a laboratory setting, a number of different reasons underlie women’s lower inclination to compete.

These reasons include not only women’s tendency to underestimate their own ability, but also greater aversion to risk, and uncertainty about their ability (Gupta, Poulsen, Villeval 2005, Niederle and Yestrumskas 2008, Eckel 2008, Eckel and Grossman 2008). Niederle and Vesterlund (2007) control for these and other factors in a carefully designed experiment that provides strong evidence of a distinct preference to avoid the act of competition against men.2 The purpose of the current paper is to provide evidence of competition-aversion in a natural setting somewhere between the simplicity of a laboratory experiment and the full complexity and ambiguity of a labor market. The behavior of runners in a race suggests that female competitionaversion can be detected even in single-sex situations.

The “State Street Mile” race offers both male and female participants a choice between two different levels of competition. Those who believe they have superior ability, relative to participants of the same gender, are encouraged to enter a highly competitive, high-profile elite race with cash prizes. Other participants—those who believe they are slower runners and those who simply prefer a lower level of competition—pay the same entry fee and run the same course in age-group races with no cash prize. Systematic gender differences are observed in the relationship between true ability (as measured by actual time to run the mile, observed ex post) and the decision to enter the more competitive elite race. While fast young men are almost certain to enter the highly competitive race, a sizeable minority of the fast young women do not choose to do so.

The tendency to understate ability can be reduced if the question is answered privately, rather than announced in public (Heatherington et. al. 1993).

Recent research by Gneezy, Leonard and List (2009) documents that the direction of the gendered preference for competition is culture-specific.

Niederle and Vesterlund (2007) argue that reluctance to compete against men is particularly costly to high-ability women because this group has the most to gain from entering the competition. This was true for the mixed-gender tournament they studied. However, we find that on this single-sex task the very fastest women are quite likely to enter the elite race. It is the middle range—above the qualifying standard but below the group most likely to win—where the largest gender differences in behavior are observed. Thus, while our results are consistent with experimental work suggesting that women tend to have competition-averse preferences, they also demonstrate that in some instances there might not be very much economic significance. In this context, the fastest women respond to financial incentives, and the economic consequences of the preference for competition aversion are therefore quite small.

In addition to the gender difference, this analysis identifies a reluctance of older qualified runners to enter the more competitive race, despite the fact that after age 40 winners are chosen based on age-graded times. This finding differs from recent experimental work by Charness and Villeval (2008) which shows that younger and older field subjects (employees under 30 years old and employees of the same firm over 50 years old) were equally willing to select a competitive payment option. In the State Street Mile, the propensity to compete in the highly competitive elite race among older men is similar to that observed for younger women, while older women are the least likely and young men are the most likely to enter a highly competitive elite race.





Data There are four highly competitive races. Athletes are invited to sign up for the men’s or women’s “elite” race if they expect to run the mile faster than the qualifying standard (4:30 for men, 5:30 for women). An additional pair of highly competitive races is offered to athletes over

40. In the “elite masters” races, actual mile-times are converted to age-graded times to determine finishing place.3 This allows runners who are slowing down with age to engage in an adaptive competition. Cash prizes are awarded to the top three times in the elite races and the The age-graded time is computed using Jess Brewer’s, “Masters Track &Field Age Graded Tables” http://jick.net/~jess/track/mtf/agt2006.html. The age-adjustment at age 40 is about 6 percent for men and 19 percent for women, and then increases gradually with each additional year of age after 40. For example, a 5:00 mile time for a 50 year old male converts to an age-graded mile time of 4:22. In the elite masters race, this runner would finish ahead of a 40 year old runner that ran 4:50, since the younger runner’s time converts to a slower age-graded time of 4:34.

top three age-graded times in the elite masters races, and no cash prizes are offered to other participants.4 Data on the sex, age, and mile-time of each participant in the elite races and age-group races between 2002 and 2008 are available at www.sbmile.com.5 Fixed effects controls were created using the name and birth year of each runner.6 For each runner, the first year of observation (2002-2008) was noted to indicate later familiarity with the State Street Mile race. The “elite masters” category was not offered until 2003, so the analysis of older runners covers 2003-2008.

Published qualifying standards for the elite race are guidelines for participants and are not enforced by the race director.7 Participants choose freely whether or not to enter the elite races.

We evaluate the entry decisions of runners by comparing their finishing times to the qualifying standards. For the elite masters races the time of a qualified runner depends upon age and gender. Since there are no published qualifying standards for the elite masters races we apply the same standards used in the elite races on an age-graded basis. In other words, runners in the elite masters races are deemed to have met the qualifying standard if their age-graded time is faster than 4:30 for men and 5:30 for women. This is consistent with advice given by the race director to prospective participants in the elite masters races.8 While it is possible for an individual over 40 to meet the qualifying standard for the elite race, only one runner over 40 ever chose the elite race over the elite masters race.9 We therefore model the choice set as a binary decision for both older and younger runners, conditioning on actual mile-time for younger runners and age-graded mile-time for runners over age 40.

Sample Means The probability of entering a highly competitive elite race is strongly correlated with miletimes relative to the qualifying standard. In each of the four groups (younger and older men and Cash prizes were $500, $250, and $100 for both men and women in the elite races over the sample period. Cash prizes in the elite masters races were $150, $100 and $50 in 2003, but were lowered to $100, $75 ad $50 in 2008.

The top three runners in both the elite races and the less-competitive age-group races are given plaques that designate a first-, second-, or third-place finish in their respective race.

In a handful of cases (n=11) an individual ran the age-group race as a warm-up to the elite race, yielding 2 conflicting observations. In each of these cases, the age-group observation was dropped from the sample.

A visual check was used to match those who had a typo or used a nickname in one year.

However, a runner in the (under 40) elite race must beat the qualifying standard in order to be eligible for prize money. No top-three runner in the elite race has ever failed to meet the standard.

This was conveyed to us by personal communication.

This man is coded as choosing to compete in an elite race.

women), those below the qualifying standard are very unlikely to enter an elite race (Table 1, column 1). The main difference between groups is in the probability of entering an elite race conditional on running faster than the qualifying standard (Table 1, column 3). This probability ranges from 87 percent for the younger men to 28 percent for older women. Younger women are about three-fourths as likely as younger men to enter an elite race, conditional on an ex post mile-time faster than the qualifying standard. Older men are even less likely than young women to enter an elite race, despite the age-adjusted intensity of competition, and older women are the least likely to enter an elite race, conditional on meeting the qualifying standard.

–  –  –

Table 1—Proportion Entering Elite Race, by Sex, Age Group, and Mile-Time Relative to Qualifying Standard A pair of regressions presented in Appendix Table A-1 dispels any doubt that the lower propensity of qualified women and older runners to enter the more competitive race is statistically significant (at the 1 percent level). Further tests of differences between the Table AColumn 2 coefficients reveal statistically significant differences between older and younger women (1 percent), and between older men and either group of women (10 percent). The question to be answered next is whether the observed between-group differences might be due to incorrect assessment of ability, competition aversion, or some other factor.

A Simple Model Assume that runners get utility from winning a cash prize and disutility from the humiliation of entering an elite race, but running slower than the qualifying standard. Moreover, assume that some (competition-loving) runners gain additional utility from running in an elite race, while other (competition-averse) runners get disutility from running in an elite race. Each runner has the option to compete in an elite race, or to select a lower level of competition and enter their age-group race. Choosing to enter an elite race confers a (possibly negative) gain in expected payoff, which depends on the intrinsic enjoyment of competing as well as expectations about prizes or humiliation.

This model can be summarized by Equation 1, which shows the utility of runner i who chooses optimally between entering the elite and age-group race. Where Ci is an individualspecific measure of the preference for competition, E(wi) is the expected utility associated with winning a cash prize in the elite race, and E(hi) is the expected humiliation associated with running below the qualifying standard in the elite race,

Ui = max{Ci + E(wi) – E(hi),0}. (1)

The value of Ui is bounded below by zero, the (normalized) utility associated with entering the less competitive race. Aversion to entering the competition regardless of expected mile-time is captured by a negative value of Ci. E(wi) depends on the individual’s expected distribution of possible mile-times, the expected times of other runners, and i’s preferences over cash prizes.

E(wi) is a significant factor only among runners who both value winning and believe they have a good chance of winning. E(hi) depends on the individual’s expected distribution of possible mile-times, the location of that distribution relative to the qualifying standard, and the individual’s attitude toward humiliation. E(hi) is a significant factor only among those who are likely to run slower than the qualifying standard.



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