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Men slower than they think


Male long distance runners overestimate their own abilities – they’re not as fast as they think they are. Mitesh Kataria, Associate Professor of Economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg (and himself a recreational runner) has investigated long distance races and has identified clear differences between women and men.

Earlier research has already shown that people tend to overestimate their abilities, and that men do so to a larger extent than their female counterparts. What makes this study unique is the wealth of feedback that is readily available for the subjects.

"A long distance runner trains regularly and often keeps close track of his or her running times. This means that they should have reasonably accurate expectations before a race. But my study demonstrates that this is not the case. Runners overestimate their own abilities, and male runners are generally more optimistic about their times than their female counterparts," says Mitesh Kataria.

For this study, Mitesh Kataria assembled information from ten long distance races (involving distances of at least 21.1 km), including the Gothenburg Half Marathon and the Stockholm Marathon. Prior to the race, runners were asked to record their anticipated race times, which were then compared to their actual times. The results are clear: Overall, in every race, male runners recorded faster expected race times than they actually achieved.

According to Mitesh Kataria, one should not jump to conclusions in applying these findings to other areas. However, since overestimating one's abilities can be seen as a character trait, the results may indicate a relatively constant behavioural pattern.

"The phenomenon of men tending to overestimate their abilities may also apply off the race course - in the labour market, for example. It would be interesting to investigate whether the male tendency to overestimate himself may in part explain the wage gap between men and women."

One of the study’s conclusions is that as humans, our performance levels are not as high as we claim them to be.

"For example, if one wishes to evaluate the productivity of one's employees, it would be best to have them take a test in which they can demonstrate their abilities. Let them ‘walk the walk’ rather than merely ‘talking the talk.’ Because if we only listen to what they say about themselves, we risk favouring male employees", elaborates Mitesh Kataria.

The study is based on polling from approximately 5,000 runners. The runners entered their expected race times on campaign websites, arranged by a train operator and runner’s organisation, a few days prior to their respective races. The runners who most accurately estimated their race times had the chance to win travel vouchers.

"How long do you think it will take? Field Evidence on Gender Differences in Time Optimism" by behavioural economist Mitesh Kataria has been published as a Working Paper at the Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg.