Women teachers ‘no less competitive than men’

Women teachers are no less competitive than men, but are more pessimistic than them about performance-related pay, according to experimental research.

The study by Professor Victor Lavy of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Warwick is published in the June 2013 issue of the Economic Journal. It analyses the outcomes of a real-life ‘tournament’, in which teachers of maths, English and languages could get large cash bonuses based on the test performance of their classes relative to others in the same school.

The results show that the performance of teachers in this competitive environment was no different for men and women; nor did women’s performance vary with the gender mix of the teaching staff. What’s more, women teachers improved their performance in the competitive environment relative to the non-competitive one. But women were also more pessimistic about the effectiveness of performance pay for teachers and more realistic than men about their likelihood of winning bonuses.

The researcher says the evidence suggests incentives and competition in educational systems may improve performance in the short term, but he adds that in the long term performance-related pay schemes may make women more likely to leave the teaching profession.

Previous studies, mainly conducted with children or university students, have suggested men and women respond differently to competition and that part of the gender earnings gap could be explained by women being less effective than men in competitive environments even if they perform similarly in non-competitive environments.

Professor Lavy’s study, based in Israel, examined whether there are gender differences in competitiveness in a real workplace with adult participants. In particular, he examined how individual performance is affected by a competitive environment in which monetary bonuses are paid based on a performance in a tournament.

The tournaments, one for each subject, were part of an experiment with individual teachers’ incentives implemented in the 2001 academic year in 49 high schools in Israel.

Teachers were awarded bonuses based on their tournament ranking. The results suggest that men and women’s performance under competition did not differ, so Professor Lavy went on to examine some mechanisms that might explain that outcome. For example, there were no differences by either gender or the gender mix of the competitive group in teachers’ awareness of the programme or in their effort and teaching methods.

But there were relatively large gender differences in expectations about success in the competition and in perceptions about the effectiveness of the incentive scheme.



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