A sex difference in the predisposition for physical competition: males play sports much more than females even in the contemporary U.S

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49168. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049168. Epub 2012 Nov 14.

Abstract

Much evidence indicates that men experienced an evolutionary history of physical competition, both one-on-one and in coalitions. We thus hypothesized that, compared to girls and women, boys and men will possess a greater motivational predisposition to be interested in sports, especially team sports. According to most scholars, advocacy groups, and the United States courts, however, this hypothesis is challenged by modest sex differences in organized school sports participation in the contemporary U.S., where females comprise 42% of high school participants and 43% of intercollegiate participants. We conducted three studies to test whether organized school sports participation data underestimate the actual sex difference in sports participation. Study 1 analyzed the American Time Use Survey, which interviewed 112,000 individuals regarding their activities during one day. Females accounted for 51% of exercise (i.e., non-competitive) participations, 24% of total sports participations, and 20% of team sports participations. These sex differences were similar for older and younger age groups. Study 2 was based on systematic observations of sports and exercise at 41 public parks in four states. Females accounted for 37% of exercise participations, 19% of individual sports participations, and 10% of team sports participations. Study 3 involved surveying colleges and universities about intramural sports, which primarily consist of undergraduate participation in team sports. Across 34 institutions, females accounted for 26% of registrations. Nine institutions provided historical data, and these did not indicate that the sex difference is diminishing. Therefore, although efforts to ensure more equitable access to sports in the U.S. (i.e., Title IX) have produced many benefits, patterns of sports participation do not challenge the hypothesis of a large sex difference in interest and participation in physical competition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Schools / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports / psychology
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States

Grant support

SAH was supported by University of Missouri and Grand Valley State University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.