The peer-reviewed paper “A Sex Difference in the Predisposition for Physical Competition: Males Play Sports Much More than Females Even in the Contemporary U.S” by Robert O. Deaner and a slew of others purports to have “discovered” males are different than females, a finding at variance with a well known academic theory, as explained below.
The authors looked into the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which sampled 112,000 individuals over an eight-year period, asking all sorts of questions, such as participation in sports. This “research” “discovered” “sex differences” particularly in team sports. Why, in baseball, football, and hockey, nary a lady could be found, though plenty of the rougher sex were. In individual sports, the same many-to-naught “disparity” was discovered in wrestling.
Men outran women in all the team sports, though in some individual exercise-like ventures, like yoga and aerobics, more ladies expended calories than men. All this was backed up by small p-values, which boosts confidence the authors are on to something.
Surveys, however, can go wrong. People aren’t home when you call, wording can be ambiguous, all that sort of thing. So our intrepid authors bolstered their original results by dressing up as bushes and systematically observing “unorganized sports and exercise participation at public parks in four U.S. locations: Grand Rapids, Michigan; State College, Pennsylvania; Tallahassee, Florida, and New Paltz, New York.”
I’m kidding about the cross-species dressing, but the rest is true. And do you know what they discovered? Right: that the ATUS wasn’t off base. Males outflanked non-males in baseball nearly ten to one, in basketball over 13 to one, and so on and so forth. Males were on top in all sports except running, which was a tie, and the catchall “Other”, which probably included outdoor yoga. Once more, small p-values said these differences were “statistically significant.”
By this point the researchers were growing plenty perplexed. Standard academic theory insists males and non-males are the same, as our authors well know. Yet enormous disparities cropped up time and again. They felt they had better run one more check to be sure. Going the extra step is the mark of rigor, and would help cut off any criticisms when the results were announced.
The third bit of evidence was to scan intramural registrations for sports across “colleges and universities in the U.S.” Once more, almost unbelievably, males outnumbered females (by about three to one, on average), even though women typically outnumbered men on campuses by a wide margin. “Significance” again said this effect was real.
Such disparities cry out for an explanation. The authors suggest evolution made males bigger and more competitive, thus more likely invent the activity of sliding a small hard object around on the ice with a stick with the goal of placing the object through the five-hole, or. failing that, beating an opponent about the face and neck for the sheer joy of it.
What about the theory? “[O]ur findings contradict the popular claim that there is no substantial sex difference in sports interest.” It isn’t because boys had more toys, either: “females do not play sports as much as males because they lack facilities or opportunities.” Even a bare patch of grass can be re-purposed as a soccer field at no cost.
The “substantial sex difference in sports” was found “even” in the USA, “a society where there is consensus that great progress has been made in equalizing organized school sports opportunities.” Even after 40 years of Title IX, the legislation which mandated effective female quotas for officially sponsored sports at schools.
Yes, there were gaps; nevertheless, scrupulous encouragement can narrow the disparity in some sports. For example, the number of “females that participate in distance running in the U.S. has grown steadily since the 1970s, so that there is no longer a sex difference in participation,” which is some kind of good news. Not completely good, though. Left unexplained is the perplexing result that “there are still roughly three times as many males that run fast relative to sex-specific world class standards.”
The authors were left with no choice but to admit “the hypothesis that the sex difference in sports interest is in the process of converging must be viewed as lacking empirical support.” And that it may be a mistake to suppose “that males and females have, or soon will have, generally equal sports interest.”
Yours Truly sure hopes all authors already have tenure. Publishing results as “transgressive” as these can be deleterious to one’s career.
Thanks to Al Perrella for alerting me to this topic.