May 15, 2016
The lower willingness of females to compete is extensively documented, and has a wide range of implications including gender gaps in occupational choice, achievement and labor market outcomes. In this paper, we show that one of the driving forces of competitive behavior is grit, a skill that is highly predictive of achievement, and evaluate the impact on competitiveness of a randomized educational intervention that aims to foster grit. The intervention is implemented in a sample of elementary schools, and we measure its impact using a dynamic competition task with interim performance feedback. We find that when children are exposed to an optimistic worldview that emphasizes the role of effort in achievement and encourages perseverance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete disappears. We propose the effect of this treatment on self-confidence and perseverance as a potential mechanism to explain the results.