Fumio Otake of Osaka University (labor economics) contributed a nice article to a major newspaper in Japan:
Have you ever heard of the term glass ceiling?
It refers to situations where the advancement of a qualified person within the hierarchy of an organization is stopped at a lower level because of some form of discrimination (sex or race, deaf, blind, disabled, aged and so on). It is distinguished from formal barriers to advancement, such as education or experience requirements.
Recently the fraction of women in the middle management in companies has been increasing but is still relatively small to that of men. Moreover, there's a wage gap between men and women. Why not? That's what many labor-economists are interested in.
Generally, there must be 3 possible reasons for it:
(1) Top managers dislike women.
It is a kind of preference or discrimination against women. However, rational firms try to hire more competent and productive workers in competitive market. If a woman were more competent than a man, they would try to hire the former and pay higher wage. So if there were such discrimination against women in some firms, the competition they face should not be hard.
Some researchers find that the firms which hire more women are making more money than those which don't in Japan.
(2) Managers hire more men because men are more likely to continue working.
It is, what is called, "statistical discrimination" . The idea is that firms want to hire people who continue to work but they don't know who are more likely to continue. (Firms don't know the types of workers, workers who continue to work or not)
Firms give workers many kinds of job-training and they want to get higher return from such "human investment". So they want to hire people who continue working. They try to find the type from their experience and know that men are more likely to continue to work than women.
And thus women become less competent than men in the business society because firms are less willing to invest women.
This is a statistical discrimination. It's a kind of signaling game, where the informed party is workers and the uninformed party is firms. Woman must be a signaling to firms as "not working long".
(3) Men are more overconfident than women.
Sounds interesting! According to the research conducted by Uri Gneezy of UC-San Diego and other economists, women may be less effective than men in competitive environments, even if they are able to perform similarly in noncompetitive environments.(1)
In a laboratory experiment they observe, as they increase the competitiveness of the environment, a significant increase in performance for men, but not for women. This results in a significant gender gap in performance in tournaments, while there is no gap when participants are paid according to piece rate.
They also find out that the competition enhances the performance of males, but not females in a race of young children.(2)
Some researchers find out that men like competition better than women and men are more overconfident than women.
The question is that it is due to genetic or cultural effects. Which do you think is more reasonable?
The research conducted by Gneezy etc. uses a controlled experiment to explore whether there are gender differences in selecting into competitive environments across two distinct societies: the Maasai in Tanzania and the Khasi in India.
One unique aspect of these societies is that the Maasai represent a textbook example of a patriarchal society whereas the Khasi are matrilineal.
Similar to the extant evidence drawn from experiments executed in Western cultures, Maasai men opt to compete at roughly twice the rate as Maasai women. Interestingly, this result is reversed amongst the Khasi, where women choose the competitive environment more often than Khasi men, and even choose to compete weakly more often than Maasai men.
They view these results as potentially providing insights into the underpinnings of the factors hypothesized to be determinants of the observed gender differences in selecting into competitive environments.
In their guess, men's preference for competition should be due to cultural reason.
As Prof. Otake said, cultural matters might be possibly closely related to gap of economic performance.
(1)Gneezy, U., M. Niederle, and A. Rustichini “Performance in competitive environments: Gender differences,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2003, p. 1049-1074.
(2)Gneezy, U., and A. Rustichini “Gender and competition at a young age,” American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, May 2004, 377-381.
(3)Uri Gneezy, Kenneth L. Leonard, John A. List,Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society, NBER Working Paper No. 13727, 2008