The Cooperation Gap And The Wage Gap

by Brendan James

Derek Thompson spotlights a new study that explains an aspect of why women are overrepresented in fields that demand more cooperation:

[The study’s] most important conclusion involves perceptions of relative competence. Basically, if you think your colleagues are idiots, you don’t want to cast your lot with them. But if you think your colleagues are smart, you’ll see the advantages in working as a team. Women demonstrated less confidence about their own abilities, the researchers said, and more confidence in their potential partners’ abilities. They were also much more sensitive to increasing their potential partner’s incomes, reinforcing a well-established idea that women demonstrate more “inequity aversion” than men. That is, they’re less comfortable with their colleagues making dramatically different salaries.

How knowing this may help address the gender wage gap:

[I]nterestingly, the researchers found that a tiny tweak in team-based compensation erased this entire gender gap. [Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval] cleverly ran an experiment allowing men and women to select team-work versus solo-work, and then re-ran the experiment increasing the returns from excellent team-work by about 10 percent. Once they did this, the cooperation gap between men and women disappeared … In other words, men are more sensitive than women to small tweaks in team-based compensation.