In a new study, two economic researchers evaluated the preferences of women and men to work in groups, alone, or in competitive settings. In the past, studies have shown that women prefer to work in teams while men prefer to work alone because men are overconfident in their own abilities and distrust their colleagues. In addition, research has suggested that women don’t work as well in competitive environments, even if their performance quality matches that of their male counterparts.

This new study was conducted by Peter J. Kuhn, an economics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Marie-Claire Villeval, an economics professor at the National Center for Scientific Research, in order to understand why men and women perform so differently in the workplace.

Kuhn and Villeval asked male and female students from undergraduate engineering and business schools to choose either team-based projects or solo-based projects, while ensuring that the groups were evenly mixed with male and females. After evaluating the first round of the experiment, the researchers found no significant difference between a man’s output and a woman’s output when they worked by themselves on a project. The performance remained the same with group projects as well, which told researchers that there was no gender gap in either case.

When the men and women were evaluated for the confidence that they had in their teammates' abilities, women showed “much higher” expectations and confidence in their partners than men did. This also led women to choose team-based compensation more frequently than men did.

This was found again when they re-ran the same experiment except, this time, with incentivized team efforts. The participants were told that each team would be paid based on their output and that they would have to choose their teammates. Individuals who chose to work alone were also paid on an individual basis. Women were much more likely to choose a team-compensated project than men were as soon as payment was introduced.

“Women’s more generous beliefs about their partner’s ability account for all the gender gap team choices," the researchers wrote.

It is true that there is an abundance of women in not-for-profit sectors, while they are found sparingly in top financial, economic, or political positions in modern society. This could be attributed to the fact that women tend to shy away from competitive environments and flock to positions involving collaboration. According to Kuhn and Villeval’s experiment, women simply aren’t as confident in their own abilities as men are, while men are often too distrusting of their coworkers’ abilities and overconfident of their own.

“There’s a growing recognition that most of today’s truly important problems related to the environment, related to smart cities, related to health care simple cannot be solved without cross-disciplinary collaboration,” said Amy C. Edmonson, a professor at Harvard Business School.

“Our results might help shed light on the substantial and continuing gap in the occupational distribution of men and women, even in societies where a great deal of equality of opportunity exists," the researchers wrote.

Source: Kuhn P, Villeval M. Are Women More Attracted To Cooperation Than Men? National Bureau of Economic Research. 2013.