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Men, Woman, Cooperation and the Gender Pay Gap

Here is a working paper by Leonie Gerhards and Michael Kosfeld entitled I (Don’t) Like You! But Who Cares? Gender Differences in Same Sex and Mixed Sex Teams. The abstract reads as follows:

We study the effect of likability on female and male team behavior in a lab experiment. Extending a two-player public goods game and a minimum effort game by an additional pre-play stage that informs team members about their mutual likability we find that female teams lower their contribution to the public good in case of low likability, while male teams achieve high levels of cooperation irrespective of the level of mutual likability. In mixed sex teams, both females’ and males’ contributions depend on mutual likability. Similar results are found in the minimum effort game. Our results offer a new perspective on gender differences in labor market outcomes: mutual dislikability impedes team behavior, except in all-male teams.

Aside from that, the paper seems interesting though I should be fair and note I only had time to skim it. Still, if the paper holds up, it requires an explanation.

The first thing to note is that the paper deals with perceived likability rather than actual likability, and the measures come from how participants in the experiment rate photographs of other participants. However, these measures seem to be reasonably stable – an individual rated as likable by one person tends to be rated as likable by others.

Beyond this, we get to a very non-PC explanation for the results the authors found: men and women are said to approach social interactions differently. One often hears that men are more insensitive or otherwise don’t observe social cues the same way women do. There is also some evidence from biology that “males are predisposed to be more ready than females to repair their relationship.” Put another way – it would seem that in a group of people, men are less likely to have friction with others than are women. Two individuals who “get over it” are more likely to successfully cooperate than two individuals who maintain animosity toward each other. And even if only one person is unable to “get over it” that will negatively impact the team performance.

If this result replicates, and if it translates outside a lab environment, it may imply something about the gender pay gap. Playing well with others – coworkers, customers, and other third parties – is an important though often unstated part of every job.

As a sort of aside… I remember once watching a comedy sketch in which the comedian (sorry, I cannot remember who) talked about how, if two women found themselves at a party wearing the same outfits, they’d spend the rest of the rest of the party avoiding each other. On the other hand, according to the comedian, each of two men wearing the same outfit at a party, upon spotting each other would have a new best friend.

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