Women are more comfortable than men in a working environment that involves teamwork, according to a new experimental study by Peter Kuhn and Marie Claire Villeval, published in the February 2015 issue of the Economic Journal.

Their research indicates that this is in part because women are less pessimistic than men about the relative performance of their potential colleagues: even high performing women are attracted by teamworking. This is an important result, the authors conclude, since it suggests that introducing voluntary teamwork will have less negative effects in companies that employ a higher share of women.

Kuhn and Villeval analyse the behaviour of men and women when they are asked to choose between receiving either individual performance pay or team payment to perform a task. They find that fewer than 11% of men choose the team payment scheme while 44% of women are attracted by this compensation scheme.

While women tend to shy away from competition, the results suggest that men shy away from cooperation. In fact, while part of the decision is a matter of preferences, the difference is mainly explained by the fact that compared with men, women hold much less pessimistic beliefs about the relative performance of their potential team members.

The researchers also show that choices change dramatically when they introduce a small economic advantage to the team payment scheme. Then, men and women select the team payment scheme in similar proportions. Indeed, men react more strongly to monetary incentives than women; thus one can influence their occupational choices in favour of teamwork with only small economic incentives.

The study also shows that women''s attraction to teams is affected by the rules for team formation. In particular, when teams are formed by mutual consent, women''s team formation rate increases dramatically and this seems to be driven by a higher inequality aversion of women compared with men.

Kuhn and Villeval also find that the individuals who choose the team compensation scheme tend to perform less well on average than those who choose to be paid based on their own performance. This results from the fact that the less able workers anticipate that by joining a team, they can improve their earnings thanks to the higher productivity of their colleagues. But this is less true for women than for men.

The researchers note that women''s educational attainment now exceeds men''s in most developed countries. Yet women are still underrepresented on the boards of major companies and in most countries'' parliaments.

While discrimination and childcare responsibilities constitute a traditional – but incomplete – explanation, more recently economists have demonstrated the importance of gender differences in preferences for labour market outcomes. Specifically, researchers have argued that women are reluctant to self-select into jobs or sectors requiring competitive behaviour. Men, in contrast, are more attracted to competition.

There is no doubt that reaching top positions in business or winning an election requires competitiveness. But if women tend to avoid competitive environments, it seems important to have a better understanding of which types of working environments do attract women, and how women fare relative to men in those environments.

In particular, are women more attracted than men to cooperative working environments? The findings of this research suggest that the answer is yes.


''Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?'' by Peter Kuhn and Marie Claire Villeval is published in the February 2015 issue of the Economic Journal. Peter Kuhn is professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Marie Claire Villeval is research professor at CNRS-GATE in Lyon. Both are affiliated to IZA, Bonn.