Gender Equality Breeds Higher Achievers, Chinese Study Shows

(Bloomberg) -- Women are more competitive if they are equal with men, according to new research comparing women from various ethnic groups in rural China.

Comparing female high-school students from three ethnic groups, Jane Zhang at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that women from groups which are naturally equal, or where government policy has raised their status and autonomy, were more competitive.

The Mosuo are only about 50,000 people and are often called the "girl kingdom" as their society is matrilineal. That culture of gender equality means that there is no competitive gap between them and their ethnic Han classmates, whose social structure has been altered by decades of government policy aimed at promoting gender equality.

By comparison, girls from the Yi ethnic group, who were mostly exempt from the higher minimum marriage age, fertility controls and other reforms, showed a less competitive nature in the study.

That competitiveness can change behaviors in the job market, where women may be reluctant to apply for positions or seek promotions, according to Zhang. As a result, governments should implement policy reforms aimed at changing culture to reduce the gender gap, she argued.

"If women have lower competitive inclination, which has been shown to correlate with obtaining more education and earning higher pay, then women may underachieve, even when they have the same choices as men and when these choices are freely made," Zhang wrote.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.