Women Prefer Cooperative Arrangements

Doubles, anyone?

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Some interesting research from Peter Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval indicates that given a choice between a scenario in which pay is linked to individual performance measures and one in which it’s linked to team performance measures, women are more likely than men to prefer the team approach.

I’m not 100 percent sold that this experiment tells us a ton about the real world (we should always be suspicious of stereotype-confirming contrived statements), but it’s at least suggestive, and if we entertain the hypothesis that it’s true for a minute you can see some of the full implications of things like the gender pay-gap phenomenon. You can look at women and men and control for experience and hours worked and industry sector and whatever else you like. What you can’t do is run a statistical control for the fact that men have held a near monopoly on the top levels of decision-making at nearly every single significant business and political enterprise in the world for the vast majority of its existence.

If men and women prefer different kinds of performance measurements and reward structures, but men get to design all the performance measurements and reward structures, then naturally male leaders will design systems that show that men on average outperform women. Then—ta da!—you end up with another way in which meritocracy merely re-inscribes inequality.