Battle Of The Sexes Revealed In College Track Star Competiveness: How It Translates Elsewhere

Men And Women Compete
In the workplace and on college track teams, competition between men and women vary. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Having a competitive edge can mean the difference between winning a race and coming in a close second — but does your gender give you an edge? Researchers from Grand Valley State University studied the differences between male and female runners in order to assess different types of competiveness unique to each gender. The study, published in the journal PeerJ, may provide insight into how an athlete’s competiveness off the track translates into the workplace.

"Our findings do echo those from other studies," the study’s lead researcher, Robert Deaner, a psychology professor from Grand Valley State University, said in a press release, "which show that even when men and women hold the same selective jobs, men are more likely to prioritize competing for recognition and status, while women have more communal orientations."

Researchers studied the top 1,147 intercollegiate runners who competed in the 5,000-meter race, because the sport is popular with both men and women. The financial incentives, such as scholarships and prize money, often do not favor men, according to the findings, but that wasn’t the only difference between the two genders. 

Researchers surveyed each athlete’s competiveness, motivation, training regimen, desire to compete post-college, and their team engagement. They found between the fastest runners and the slowest runners, the answers depended largely on their gender and not their speed. Women were more team-oriented and competitive, while men were driven to win by their desire for recognition and status. Researchers believe this could also mean those same differences are found to incentivize competitive drive in the workplace.

"By social science standards, the difference we found — men and women differing by about half a standard deviation on competitiveness measures — is moderate to large,” Deaner said. “But this kind of a difference still means that many of the female runners are more competitive than many of the male runners.”

The competitive nature between men and women, whether it be through sports or in a career, is apparent, according to the findings. Previous research conducted at Stanford University reinforced the most recent track star findings, after they explored the differences between genders in school, sports, and the workplace. Gender divisions are apparent when competition rises, such as lining up against a race rival. A man’s performance will rise in order to beat the rival for the sake of status, while a woman’s performance will not. Instead, a woman will focus on how her performance will influence the communal benefits of her workplace, in a similar way to how female runners prioritize their teammates. In future studies, researchers will continue to explore the differences between how men and women compete and more importantly — why.

Source: Deaner RO, Lowen A, Rogers W, and Saksa E. Does the sex difference in competitiveness decrease in selective sub-populations? A test with intercollegiate distance runners. PeerJ. 2015

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