Alex Tabarrok points to a paper by Uri Gneezy, Muriel Niederle, and Aldo Rustichini showing that although women solve a particular class of problems about as well as men on average, men improve their scores more than women when there is a winner-take-all tournament. The authors believe that this shows that men are more competitive than women.

I think that there is something to this. I remember noticing at the very first get-together of (mostly male) first-year graduate students in economics how the guys all seemed to be trying to impress and intimidate one another. In business meetings later in my career, I observed the same phenomenon–women tended to be task-focused while men seemed to be more concerned with showing who was on top. Particularly traumatic for me was a meeting to plan a merger between two small businesses. The testosterone contest between my CEO and the other company’s CEO was disgusting.

Tabarrok sees this as a potential explanation for why most CEO’s are male, since the CEO is chosen in what resembles a competitive tournament. That may be right, although I have always believed a different explanation. The variance of the distribution for men in such characteristics as IQ tends to be higher than that in women. If you have a tournament with one winner, you are selecting one end of the distribution, which is likely to include a greater percentage of males than the middle of the distribution.

For Discussion. How could one test the various possible explanations for the high proportion of male CEO’s?