Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Males Play Sports Much More Than Females Even in the Contemporary U.S.

Robert Deaner, Grand Valley State University
David C. Geary
Sandra A. Ham
Judy Kruger


On the basis of an evolutionary history of physical competition, both one-on-one and in coalitions, we hypothesized that boys and men, compared to girls and women, will possess a greater predisposition to be interested in sports, especially team sports. Much historical, ethnographic, and developmental evidence supports this hypothesis. Inconsistent with this hypothesis, however, are minimal sex differences in organized school sports participation in the United States. Specifically, females now comprise 42% of high school athletes and 43% of intercollegiate athletes. Here we tested the possibility that the organized school sports data substantially underestimates the sex difference in sports participation by analyzing the American Time Use Survey, which interviewed 112,000 individuals aged 15 years and older regarding their activities during one day between 2003 and 2010. Overall male sports participation rates were more than three times greater than female rates and, as predicted, were just as large in teens and younger adults as in older adults. Also as predicted, sex differences were larger in team than individual sports. In contrast to sports, exercise rates were highly similar in males and females. These patterns held within racial/ethnic groups and across levels of educational achievement. The magnitude of the sex difference found here is similar to that which has been documented in other nations. Therefore, although efforts to ensure more equitable access to organized sports in the U.S. (i.e. Title IX) have produced many benefits, sports participation rates do not challenge the hypothesis of an evolved male predisposition for engagement in physical competition.