We investigate how individual risk preferences affect the likelihood of selecting the more able contestant within a two-player Tullock contest. Our theoretical model yields two main predictions: First, an increase in the risk aversion of a player worsens her odds unless she already has a sufficiently large advantage. Second, if the prize money is sufficiently large, a less able but less risk averse contestant can achieve an equal or even higher probability of winning than a more able but more risk averse opponent. In a laboratory experiment we confirm both, the non-monotonic impact and the compensating effect of risk aversion on winning probabilities. Our results suggest a novel explanation for the gender gap and the optimality of limited monetary incentives in selection contests.
selection contest risk aversion competitive balance gender gap