Research Article: Incentives and gender in a multi-task setting: An experimental study with real-effort tasks

Date Published: March 14, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Zahra Murad, Charitini Stavropoulou, Graham Cookson, Angela Sutan.


This paper investigates the behavioural effects of competitive, social-value and social-image incentives on men’s and women’s allocation of effort in a multi-task environment. Specifically, using two real-effort laboratory tasks, we investigate how competitive prizes, social-value generation and public awards affect effort allocation decisions between the tasks. We find that all three types of incentives significantly focus effort allocation towards the task they are applied in, but the effect varies significantly between men and women. The highest effort distortion lies with competitive incentives, which is due to the effort allocation decision of men. Women exert similar amount of effort across the three incentive conditions, with slightly lower effort levels in the social-image incentivized tasks. Our results inform how and why genders differences may persist in competitive workplaces.

Partial Text

Incentives in multi-task settings have received increasing attention in recent years. More employers than ever before require employees to multitask between different job responsibilities, a trend that has increased with the economic downturn as a means to save on labor costs [1–3]). Multi-tasking is evident in academic jobs, where university lecturers are involved in teaching, research and administrative duties [4], [5]. Similarly, most clinically active surgeons in medical centers are required to conduct research as well as examine patients and perform clinical procedures [6]. It has been argued that in these multi-task settings gender inequalities prevail: leading figures from Cambridge University in the UK have recently argued that the lack of women in top academic positions may be attributed to the way different job tasks are rewarded [7]. Academic promotions, they claim, are based on rigid and highly competitive research outcomes, such as publications and research grants, and much less on teaching and public engagement. Therefore, the criteria for success may benefit men more than women. Motivated by this observation, our study explores how various incentive schemes affect effort distortion across multiple tasks and how incentive effects are determined by the employee’s gender and economic preferences.

We first present the descriptive statistics and conduct a parametric analysis of the determinants of single-task part performance in the slider and counting zeros tasks. We then look at the multi-task part and test whether competitive, social-value and social-image incentives distort effort allocation decisions between the two tasks compared to the Baseline condition. We test whether the effectiveness of the incentives shows gender variability and how men and women respond to each incentive and whether economic preferences of individuals predict their behaviour.

The incentive effects on women and men’s selection to work on one task or another is remarkably different from each other. We find that while men are more responsive to competitive and social-image incentives being applied to a fixed rate paying task, women exert similar amount of effort when competitive, social-value and social-image incentive is applied on the fixed rate paying task.




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