How Competitive are Female Professionals? A Tale of Identity Conflict
We develop and test experimentally the argument that gender/family and/or professional identities, activated through psychological priming, may influence preference for competition. We focus on female professionals for whom these identities may conflict and male professionals for whom they may be reinforcing. We primed MBA-student participants by administering questionnaires that concerned either gender/family or professional issues. Subsequently, participants undertook a real-effort task and chose between piece-rate and competitive-tournament compensation. Identity priming, moderated by gender, significantly affected preference for competitive pay. This relationship was partially mediated by beliefs about one?s performance ranking. The implications of our results are profound. The decision to avoid competition made by many female professionals may be driven not by lack of ability, but rather by the increased salience of gender/family identity, influenced by marriage and motherhood over time. Indeed, activation of internalized identities might not only drive the experimental results, but also have strong implications for career choices and job performance of women, thus contributing to the observed gender and motherhood wage gaps.