Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports
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Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports

Edited by Eva Marikova Leeds and Michael A. Leeds

Women’s sports have received much less attention from economists than from other social scientists. This Handbook fills that gap with a comprehensive economic analysis of women’s sports. It also analyzes how the behavior and treatment of female athletes reflect broad economic forces.
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Chapter 14: Gender differences in competitiveness: empirical evidence from 100m races

Bernd Frick and Friedrich Scheel


In recent years a broad consensus has emerged among social scientists about the existence of a considerable gender gap in competitiveness. We define ‘competitiveness’ as the willingness and ability to perform in a setting in which the payoff is explicitly based on the rank order of one’s performance. The reasons for the emergence and persistence of the gap remain highly contested. Researchers in different social sciences have proposed four explanations for the observed differences in behavior. To some degree these theories complement one another, and to some degree they compete with one another. First, evolutionary psychologists posit that gender differences in competitiveness reflect predispositions that evolved because of men’s longer and more intense training and greater competitive motivation (for example, Deaner 2006a, 2006b, 2011). Second, medical experts and sports scientists claim that the observed pattern has its roots in physical differences between men and women, such as hormonally regulated variations in body fat and the cardiovascular system, a lower oxygen uptake capacity, greater susceptibility to injuries, and a weaker response to training efforts by women (see, inter alia, Cheuvront et al., 2005). Third, sociologists assert that gender differences in competitiveness result from socio-cultural conditions fostering differences in socialization of boys and girls (for example, Henslin, 1999). Finally, economists argue that behavioral differences of humans are largely motivated by differences in opportunities and incentive structures (for example, Becker, 1993).

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