Research published in Scientific Reports challenges the idea that men are more competitive than women. The findings suggest that when it comes to competition for resources, women are often more competitive than men, though they may use more covert methods to compete. Researchers Joyce Benenson and Henry Markovits hypothesize that women may feel more driven to compete for resources so they can provide for their children.
The question of who the more competitive sex is has been debated and researched ad nauseam. Some studies find that men are more competitive while others find that women, at least with other women, are as or more competitive than men. There are challenges with collecting data on competitiveness, as indirect forms of competition may have gone unmeasured.
Research has found that competition is common when resources are not distributed equally — this is known as resource asymmetry. It is common for competition to occur between same-sex individuals and so Benenson and Markovits concluded investigating resource competition among same-sex peers would be a useful method to help untangle any potential differences in competitiveness between men and women.
In order to accomplish this, the research team utilized 596 participants from the United States, India, and Mexico. Participants were all married with children; they were asked to complete a survey that investigated the question, “when people you personally know see others with resources that they lack, how do they react?”
The survey also included questions about participant experiences with intra-gender competition, as well as what they may have observed others doing in similar situations. Finally, they were asked about their same-sex peers who had more resources and if they would choose to gossip or spread rumors about them.
Analysis of the data revealed that women report more intrasexual competition across all three countries. Women were more likely to experience envy or resentment for those who had more resources than them. In addition, women were more likely to participate in indirect forms of competition like gossiping or starting rumors.
These findings are important for understanding the nuances of competition, rather than assuming men are the more competitive gender. Men and women may use different competitive strategies because they are striving toward different goals.
Historically sexism has left women vulnerable to suffering a lack of resources, which would have consequences for their children as well. Because women may struggle to access resources, they may be more competitive with other women who have more of the resources they need to care for themselves and their children.
The research team acknowledged some limitations to their study. The study only included three countries, and other cultures or countries may yield different results. In addition, all of the participants had access to computers and the internet, making the sample not representative. Finally, non-binary individuals were not included in the sample, and as a result some beneficial insights may have been missed.
The study suggests that the general assumption that men are more competitive than women may not be correct. Women may be more subtle in their competition, which may originate from goals unique to the female experience. Understanding male and female differences in competition may benefit workplace relationships and parenting practices.
The study, “Married women with children experience greater intrasexual competition than their male counterparts,” was authored by Joyce Benenson and Henry Markovits.