Chalk one up for the ladies

John Tierney writes in the NYT:

Economists recently tried to find out in an experiment in Pittsburgh by paying men and women to add up five numbers in their heads. At first they worked individually, doing as many sums as they could in five minutes and receiving 50 cents for each correct answer. Then they competed in four-person tournaments, with the winner getting $2 per correct answer and the losers getting nothing.

On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round – take the piece rate or compete in a tournament – most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst.

The men’s eagerness partly stemmed from overconfidence, because on average men rated their ability more highly than the women rated theirs. But interviews and further experiments convinced the researchers, Muriel Niederle of Stanford and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, that the gender gap wasn’t due mainly to women’s insecurities about their abilities. It was due to different appetites for competition.

“Even in tasks where they do well, women seem to shy away from competition, whereas men seem to enjoy it too much,” Professor Niederle said. “The men who weren’t good at this task lost a little money by choosing to compete, and the really good women passed up a lot of money by not entering tournaments they would have won.”

I think there are two important things here. One, gender feminists should, as usual, be dismissed as intellectual buffoons because their emotion-based opinion of how the world works is again provably at variance with reality. Women are security-obsessed and risk-averse – at least when they think about about it – and so they tend to lose out in any situation where the risk-reward tradeoff comes into play.

However, and it’s a big however, women are absolutely correct to place value on things other than maximizing income. Money is useful for one reason and one reason alone; it can allow you to acquire many of the things you want. But not everything has a price tag and as too many millionaire CEOs have learned late in life, time is more valuable than money.

How much would you pay to cuddle your daughter for five minutes at bedtime? What if it was the last time you’d have the chance to do so? It’s a bit ironic for me to say this, given my curriculum vitae, but for most men and women, there are far more important things than being the top salaried dog in Cubicle City. I respect those who play to win when they decide to play, but I respect those who make wise decisions about whether the game is worth playing even more.