Women, Men, and Cooperation

(Photo: Holidayextras)

Women are not men, as we firmly established in a podcast earlier this year.  A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by economists Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval suggests one more difference between the sexes — women may be more drawn to cooperation. Here’s the abstract:

We conduct a real-effort experiment where participants choose between individual compensation and team-based pay. In contrast to tournaments, which are often avoided by women, we find that women choose team-based pay at least as frequently as men in all our treatments and conditions, and significantly more often than men in a well-defined subset of those cases. Key factors explaining gender patterns in attraction to co-operative incentives across experimental conditions include women’s more optimistic assessments of their prospective teammate’s ability and men’s greater responsiveness to efficiency gains associated with team production. Women also respond differently to alternative rules for team formation in a manner that is consistent with stronger inequity aversion.


I don't see anything about the outcome of the preferences of each gender, though.
While women may prefer cooperation to a higher degree than men, which gender actually makes the best use of it?
There are after all stories out there of all-female businesses and other ventures crumbling in on themselves as a result of the women's inability to cooperate.


there are also countless examples of male-dominant businesses crumbling as a result of lack of cooperation. that point is mute.


Nowhere did I try to make women out to be worse than men.
The study finds women prefer cooperation, but then what? For as long as history has been recorded one can see women prefer to socialize and be part of a group more so than men. That says nothing about each gender's ability to actually cooperate and produce something as a group, though.
Hence my question.

You have a point though, I should've phrased myself better.


As a woman, I am more affected and more aware of inequality in my life. As a result, I'm not surprised that women "respond differently to alternative rules for team formation in a manner that is consistent with stronger inequity aversion."


No matter how smart a woman is, she's insecure. So she wants to be in a group for security an also to cover up any of her own short-comings. That's just the truth of it. Men, even if they suck at everything, can be crazy over-confident. I personally don't like groups as a man because I can't think of a single colleague I work with that could actually help me. They are all sheep and I'd be more productive doing it by myself. But if a female colleague gets a task I better help her with it or I'll have to listen to her complaining about how difficult her work is all day.

Enter your name...

Does this actually measure cooperation vs individualness, or does it measure a difference in who thinks they're better than average?

It's that "women’s more optimistic assessments of their prospective teammate’s ability" item: I'm merely being individualistic, selfish and rational if I choose team-based pay because I believe that the team pay is higher than my individual merit pay would be. That's not "cooperative" or "anti-inequality" of me.

It's also a good risk-reduction strategy: I may not get the biggest pay, but I won't get the smallest, either. It's not about reducing inequality in the world. It's about getting more than my earned share when reasonably possible.


I work with women all day; I am a fifth grade math and science teacher - one of a handful of males in a work environment of over 60 people.

In my experience, most of the women with whom I work "go-along-to-get-along" more times than not. Almost all ideas discussed in meetings and their implementation are accepted to avoid being deemed "uncooperative". I can't count the number of times my colleagues tell me privately that whatever new policy was just accepted in a meeting was dumb. When I suggest that she say something, she tells me that she does not want to appear to be oppositional. Women fear being judged for simply disagreeing, and women who disagree are more harshly judged by other women. I see disagreement as just that - not a judgement on my relationship with that person or an attack on my being. Many women in my building operate that way. Women who don't think that way tell me that they would rather work in environment with men - less tension.

In fact when I first started teaching, another teacher remarked that now maybe salaries would get better. I asked how so, she said men speak up - women don't.

Having said that, working in an environment dominated by women has its merits. Women are quick to help out others, understand that family is paramount, more generous with kind words, etc. I've learned a lot in my twenty years working in a female dominated environment. The most important lesson that I've learned is not to say anything that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted no matter how logical or factual, prefaced by "in my opinion", or sounds like machismo - jokingly included.

It's a fine line.....but women are great...I married one!


Enter your name...

It sounds like your staff meetings need those "clickers" that are being used in large lecture halls. "Okay, everyone: there's a proposal to double your playground duty at lunch time. Just offhand, anonymously, and before we really get into the details, how many are currently favorably disposed and how many are not? Use your clicker to 'vote'."


Kris -

"Nowhere did I try to make women out to be worse than men........You have a point though, I should’ve phrased myself better."

See my earlier post....you'll learn - like I did! That's why I play baseball on the weekends, go to the gym, and spend time with my son a lot doing macho stuff. It's a good palate cleanser for the man in me.


Jim Eagle

Exactly. This society has become so feminized. Women who continue to feign "victimhood" at this point as ridiculous. Anything 'manly' in today's society is relentlessly attacked. I would like to see Freakonomics to study contrasting the average male's productivity/happiness ratio to the 1980's

Leland maniloff

"Stronger inequity aversion?" That doesn't ring true. I agree with "stronger", but not inequity. What shows that this behavior anything other than simple aversion to conflict. It's clear that women, as a group live with inequality. Alternately, are we so certain that conflict and inequality are the dynamics that drive this behavior, and that this difference in male/female behavior is biological, not social, and rooted in the same adapted behaviors of other collective animals.


There is more than one kind of cooperation. I can see women being more inclined to go along, not rock the boat. On the other hand it seems like men form group bonds which go much deeper than women's. Women have deep relationships with friends but these seem not to work in larger groupings. I don't know if this is an innate difference or social conditioning.

Leland maniloff

It's useful to look for the simplest, most efficient explanation first.