Gender differences in the propensity to negotiate are often used to explain the gender wage gap, popularizing the push for women to “lean-in.” We use a laboratory experiment to examine the effect of leaning-in. Despite men and women achieving similar and positive returns when they must negotiate, we find that women avoid negotiations more often than men. While this suggests that women would benefit from leaning-in, a direct test of the counterfactual proves otherwise. Women appear to positively select into negotiations and to know when to ask. By contrast, we find no significant evidence of a positive selection for men.

We conduct a laboratory experiment on the determinants of beliefs about own and others’ ability across different domains. A preliminary look at the data points to two distinct forces: miscalibration in estimating performance depending on the difficulty of tasks and gender stereotypes. We develop a theoretical model that separates these forces and apply it to analyze a large laboratory dataset in which participants estimate their own and a partner’s performance on questions across six subjects: arts and literature, emotion recognition, business, verbal reasoning, mathematics, and sports. We find that participants greatly overestimate not only their own ability but also that of others, suggesting that miscalibration is a substantial, first order factor in stated beliefs. Women are better calibrated than men, providing more accurate estimates of ability both for themselves and for others. Gender stereotypes also have strong predictive power for beliefs, particularly for men’s beliefs about themselves and others’ beliefs about the ability of men. Our findings help interpret evidence on gender gaps in self-confidence.




– The Spotlight series highlights the research of female economists, one at a time.

Muriel Niederle is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and is a Research Associate of the NBER. Muriel is an Associate Editor of the Journal of European Economic Association, Quantitative Economics, and AEJ: Microeconomics. Her research concentrates on behavioral and experimental economics, with emphasis on gender and market design related topics. Muriel’s work has been published in top journals, including the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

I am particularly fond of Muriel’s experimental work on gender differences in competitive environments. Along with various co-authors, she finds that:

(1) As the competitiveness of the environment increases, men’s performance increases significantly, but not women’s.

(2) “This effect is stronger when women have to compete against men than in single-sex competitive environments: this suggests that women may be able to perform in competitive environments per se.”

(3) “Women shy away from competition and men embrace it.”

(4) Among secondary school students in the Netherlands, “although boys and girls display similar levels of academic ability, boys choose substantially more prestigious academic tracks, where more prestigious tracks are more math- and science-intensive…Boys are also substantially more competitive than girls…Competitiveness is strongly positively correlated with choosing more prestigious academic tracks even conditional on academic ability…The gender difference in competitiveness accounts for a substantial portion (about 20%) of the gender difference in track choice.”

For more information about Muriel and her research, check out her website. It has a lot of interesting stuff! She also blogs about experimental and behavioral economics here.





  • Claudia Goldin and Joshua Mitchell have a new working paper on the changed lifecycle of women’s employment in the United States.
  • Are women really happier than men around the world? No, according to a new paper by Mallory Montgomery (on the econ job market). In fact, on average, women are less happy than men. (h/t Development Impact)
  • Why do harmful norms persist? Lindsey Novak, also on the job market, examines the case of female genital cutting in Burkina Faso. (h/t Development Impact)

Conferences in Delhi


Every December, the Delhi School of Economics and the Indian Statistical Institute organize two separate conferences that I have been lucky enough to attend several times. These are excellent gatherings of Indian and non-Indian economists working in and outside India, and in all fields. The weather in Delhi is excellent at this time of the year (the photos, however, are from this past summer!) and the food is better than all other conferences that I have been to.

I am also happy to see a lot more gender-related papers being presented this year. The ISI conference has 4 sessions on gender and a plenary session by Rohini Pande on women and work in India.

The programs for this year are here:

11th Annual Winter School, Delhi School of Economics

12th Annual Conference on Economic Growth and Development, ISI Delhi







Photo: Chris Crisman

  • Of the eight women newly elected to the US House of Representatives, five are women of color. Lenny profiles Kamala Harris (California), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Tammy Duckworth (Illinois), Pramila Jayapal (Washington), Lisa Blunt Rochester (Delaware), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota).
  • A new working paper on sexual violence, Title IX, and women’s college enrollment in the US.
  • Women’s Work: A photo project by Chris Crisman on women who have jobs not typically done by women.