confidence, gender, and the social psychology of inequality
The Atlantic has a new article called “The Confidence Gap.” Katty Kay and Claire Shipman review the academic literature to discuss one source of gender inequality – the systematic differences in confidence. Roughly speaking, Kay and Shipman suggest that one reason that men are more likely to rise faster through careers is that men are simply overconfident. The fortune cookie version of the argument is that women will apply for a job only if they are sure that they 100% qualified, while men will take a shot if they are half qualified.
A few comments: While I believe that sexism exists, the article is consistent with a “sexism without sexists” style argument as well. In other words, if A and B compose half the population but A applies for raises 66% of the time and B applies 33% of the time, you will very quickly get inequality even when bosses do not consider gender.
A policy observation from some of the experimental work. Kay and Shipman describe an experiment where men and women subjects try to solve a puzzle and initially men do better because they answer almost all questions. Women will try only when they are sure of the answer. When women are required to do the puzzles, the scores equalize. The policy implication is that raises and promotions should be routine. People are automatically considered for raises and promotions, or everyone will be considered if the situation arises.
The article has a lot to think about for folks interested in gender and inequality.