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Nutty Professor
New Research on Sex Differences in Sports Motivation and Title IX
We’ve got a new paper that some of you might find interesting. You can freely download it here:

The press release is below. I’ll answer questions in this forum. You can also make comments at the journal’s site.

Thanks for any feedback.

Males play sports much more than females even in contemporary U.S.

Even in the contemporary U.S., men are still much more interested than women in playing sports, according to researchers at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The findings were published in the online journal PLOS ONE at

The new research, led by Robert Deaner, associate professor of psychology at Grand Valley State, shows that, on average, American men actually play sports about three times as often as American women.

“The existence of such a sex difference might seem obvious. However, many scholars, advocacy groups and the United States courts believe the sex difference in sports interest is non-existent, small or rapidly disappearing,” said Deaner. “This view is based on the fact that women comprise 42 percent of high school sports participants and 43 percent of intercollegiate sports participants.”

The new results are based on three studies of sports participation outside of these settings. Details are below.

Deaner said the results challenge a “blank slate” view of human sex differences, whereby men and women only differ because of the social environments that shaped them throughout their lives. An evolutionary perspective, by contrast, holds that even when men and women and boys and girls receive similar encouragement and opportunities, major sex differences in some kinds of motivation will reliably emerge.

“Sports are one such area because they function as arenas of physical competition, and men have, on average, experienced greater physical competition throughout human evolutionary history,” Deaner said. “This is one reason why men are physically larger and stronger than women. In addition to these physical differences, boys and men are predisposed to be more interested in sports than girls and women. This interest drives them to refine the physical and social skills that were important components of men’s physical competition during our evolutionary history.”

According to the study, the sex difference in sports participation reflects a difference in motivation to play because the smaller or non-existent sex difference in exercise shows males more strongly prioritize sports; they don’t simply have more time for them. These results support previous questionnaire studies that have consistently shown that females’ self-reported desire to participate and excel in sports is lower than males’.

The authors caution that, although these new findings contradict the blank slate view, it is premature to conclude that the sex difference in sports participation and interest will not narrow further or disappear in the U.S. or in other societies. Deaner said, “It’s only been 40 years since Title IX was passed and, in some ways, we still have a long way to go to provide truly equitable opportunities. But our results do show that the oft-repeated claim that the sex difference in sports is ‘only a myth’ is bogus. In reality, there is a large difference, it’s fairly easy to measure it, and there is no indication that it will be disappearing any time soon.”

Deaner also emphasized the continued importance of Title IX. “We certainly don’t dispute the need for Title IX or its tremendous benefits. Our results do suggest, though, that it’s probably a mistake to base Title IX implementation on the assumption that males and females have equal sports interest, or that this could be easily achieved,” he said.

For more information, contact Robert Deaner at

* In Study 1, the researchers analyzed the American Time Use Survey, in which 112,000 adults were interviewed regarding their activities during one day. Women accounted for 51 percent of exercise (i.e., non-competitive) participations but only 24 percent of sports participations.

* In Study 2, the authors made systematic observations of sports and exercise at 41 public parks in four states. Women comprised 37 percent of exercise participations but only 12 percent of sports participations.

* Study 3 was based on surveys of intramural sports at 34 colleges and universities. It revealed that women accounted for only 26 percent of roughly 200,000 registrations. In addition, nine institutions provided historical intramural data, and these did not indicate that the sex difference has been diminishing.

The study was co-authored by David Geary, University of Missouri; David Puts, Penn State; Sandra Ham; Judy Kruger, Emory University; Elizabeth Fles, Grand Valley State; Bo Winegard, Florida State and Terry Grandis, State University of New York at New Paltz.

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