Shocking New Study: Males Play More Sports Than Non-Males

Non-female Gordie Howe a possible example of sexual sports asymmetry?
Non-female Gordie Howe demonstrates sexual asymmetry on the ice.
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.


  1. Steve Crook

    I find it hard to believe that anyone would consider men and women to be ‘the same’. Different evolutionary drives, different developmental environment in the womb and different hormones once out of the womb. How can this not lead to variation?

    OT, I followed the ‘Pew Sitter’ link and ended up here: Not for those with high blood pressure and a Dawkins allergy. I’m not a believer, and I’m happy for Dawkins to *think* this stuff, but really, I wish he’d keep his mouth shut. It’s embarrassing.

  2. MattS


    “Standard academic theory insists males and non-males are the same”

    You use the males and non-males verbiage in several places in the article. I don’t know if this is you language choice or if this comes from the paper and I don’t think it’s worth taking the time to look but somebody seems to be confused about the number of genders. 🙂

  3. Ray

    It’s true. Those X and Y chromosomes make no difference. You can tell males and non-males are the same just by looking. If they look different to you, just ignore it and trust the experts.

  4. MattS


    The use of non-males rather than just saying females can be read as implying more than two genders, that females aren’t the only non-males.

  5. genemachine

    If our host could embrace evolutionary psychology he might have an explanation of these findings.

  6. Rich

    If our host embraced evolutionary psychology he’d have an explanation of all findings.

  7. genemachine


    Only if he did it very badly. Which he would.

    Evolution is the best explanation for sexual dimorphism in physiology and behavior. It is parsimonious and makes testable predictions.

  8. Briggs


    My dear, I’m afraid that if credentialed academics, PhDs at our top universities, say there are no differences between males and non-males, then there can’t be any differences. I’m surprised people still claim to tell the two subspecies apart.

  9. genemachine


    My disappointment with the continued survival of 1970s style blank slatism is as big as yours. I think it’s very much a minority view in fields that actually study such differences in anything resembling a scientific manner.

    If you do reject the blank slate model, and accept the existence of innate human nature, then surely the force that shaped these predispositions is our old friend natural selection. On sex difference it fundamentally makes sense that it’s the male gorillas that have the harems, male stags that do the rutting, and female lions that do most of the childcare.

    If you agree on this then you too are a budding evolutionary psychologist.

  10. Briggs


    Be careful saying that. If denizens of your “Womens Studies” Department discover your heretical views, you could be out on your ear.

    And of course I am an evolutionary psychologist. But being one does not mean subscribing to each of its myriad theories. Apropos: this, and this. Meanwhile, I await eagerly the evolutionary psychology theory for how abortion and contraception help propagate “selfish” genes.

  11. genemachine


    >Be careful saying that. If denizens of your “Womens Studies” Department discover your heretical views, you could be out on your ear.

    By the same token, I think biologists have come to the opposite conclusion from the womyns studies department*.

    >Meanwhile, I await eagerly the evolutionary psychology theory for how abortion and contraception help propagate “selfish” genes.

    And long may you wait. Safe “birth control” methods are a very new and novel introduction to our environment. Evolution does not plan ahead.

    Broadly speaking

  12. genemachine

    Ignore the “Broadly speaking” above, I submitted the form by accident. And merry Christmas to you and your readers.

  13. Briggs


    “Broadly speaking.” Is that some kind of sexist crack?

  14. Micha Elyi

    A ‘social study’ is the elaborate demonstration of the obvious by methods that are obscure.

    Bill Bennett, former US Secretary of Education
    (heard on the Rush Limbaugh Radio Program, 22 AUG 2001)

  15. j ferguson

    in 1969, during a tour with the department of development and planning, City of Chicago, someone, in print, divided the local population into Blacks, and Non-blacks.

    There was organizational outrage. I can remember that the author very nearly lost his job.

    There must be some meaning here, but I’m at a bit of a loss to divine it.

    ah well.

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