24 July 2009

Environment, not gender, makes girls more or less competitive

A study of adolescent behaviour by University of Essex researchers has found that a girl’s social environment is more important than her gender in affecting her choices on risk and competition.

Girls from single-sex schools behave more like boys, much more so than girls from co-educational schools, according to the study. Experiments conducted by Professor Alison L. Booth and Dr Patrick Nolen revealed that going to a single-sex school makes teenage girls more competitive and less risk averse than if they attend a co-ed one.

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation and the University of Essex, the study found that the school environment made no difference to the attitudes of boys. However, after 30 minutes of being in a single-sex group, the attitude of girls from co-ed schools changed noticeably and they were much more likely to be competitive.

The research may help to explain why women lag behind men in competing for pay and promotions. ‘Some research suggests that the current gender gaps may be due to innate preferences; women are not risk-loving or competitive enough for higher paying jobs. We have shown that this is not the case,’ said Dr Nolen.

Ends

Note to editors
For further information, please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail: comms@essex.ac.uk. To contact Dr Nolen please dial 01206872735.

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