Discussion paper

DP11596 Understanding Gender Differences in Leadership

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


Lóránth, G, S Alan and E Kubilay (2016), ‘DP11596 Understanding Gender Differences in Leadership‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 11596. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp11596