Sustaining the potential for cooperation as female competitive strategy

Alessandra Cassar, Mary Rigdon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The lower female competitiveness often found in economic experiments presents a puzzle. If accumulating wealth and reaching high status affords women essential benefits for themselves and their children, why do women appear less competitive? By looking at behavioural strategies from a cooperative breeding perspective, we propose that women may have evolved an adaptation to strategically suppress competitiveness to elicit cooperation for the benefit of raising offspring. To support this idea, we review the literature that shows that women's behaviour is, in general, more reactive than men's to the social conditions of the different games. In particular, we focus on our experimental work where we show that women are not less competitive than men once the games evoke a parenting frame (by substituting cash with rewards that could benefit the participants' offspring), a gender-typical one (by using vouchers for prizes acceptable as domain of female interests), or include a prosocial option (by allowing winners to share some of the gains with losers). We conclude that, for women, nurturing the potential for cooperation intertwines with competitiveness to produce a complex, adaptive female social strategy. This article is part of the theme issue 'Cooperation among women: evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210440
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1868
StatePublished - Jan 16 2023


  • competitiveness
  • female strategies
  • women competition and cooperation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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