Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence From a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society


  • Uri Gneezy,

    1. Rady School of Management, University of California–San Diego, Otterson Hall, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0553, U.S.A.;
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  • Kenneth L. Leonard,

    1. University of Maryland, 2200 Symons Hall, Colledge Park, MD 20783, U.S.A.;
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  • John A. List

    1. Dept. of Economics, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, U.S.A., NBER, and Dept. of Economics, CentER, PO Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands;
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    • We thank our research team for aiding in the collection of these data, especially Steffen Andersen. A co-editor was instrumental in guiding us toward a much improved manuscript, both in content and in style. Four anonymous referees also provided quite useful comments, as did many seminar participants.


We use 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 among the Khasi, where women choose the competitive environment more often than Khasi men, and even choose to compete weakly more often than Maasai men. These results provide insights into the underpinnings of the factors hypothesized to be determinants of the observed gender differences in selecting into competitive environments.