Understanding Gender Differences in Leadership


In this project, we study the evolution of gender differences in the willingness to assume the decision-maker role in a group, which is a major component of leadership. Using data from a large-scale field experiment, we show that while there is no gender difference in the willingness to make risky decisions on behalf of a group in a sample of children, a large gap emerges in a sample of adolescents. In particular, the proportion of girls who exhibit leadership willingness drops by 39% going from childhood to adolescence. We explore the possible causes of this drop and find that a significant part of it can be explained by a dramatic decline in “social confidence”, measured by the willingness to perform a real effort task in public. We show that it is possible to capture the observed link between public performance and leadership by estimating a structural model that incorporates costs related to social concerns. These findings are important in addressing the lower propensity of females to self-select into high-level positions, which are typically subject to greater public scrutiny.

Team Members

Professor Sule Alan, University of Essex
Associate Professor Seda Ertac, Koc University
Dr Elif Kubilay, Senior Research Officer, ISER, University of Essex
Professor Gyongyi Loranth, University of Vienna


The ING Bank of Turkey, University of Vienna and TUBITAK

Media Coverage

University of Chicago Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group


Working Paper: Understanding Gender Differences in Leadership (January 2017)