Friday, September 14, 2012

The gender gap in throwing ability

There’s no way around it. I throw like a girl. ...

As much as the expression grates, girls do, in general, throw like girls.

Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied the gender gap across a broad spectrum of skills. She believes that men and women aren’t as different as they are often portrayed, and she has mined data on social, psychological, communication and physical traits, skills and behaviors to quantify the gap. After looking at 46 meta-analyses, Hyde found what she defined as a “very large” difference in only two skills: throwing velocity and throwing distance.

The throwing gap has been researched for more than half a century, and the results have been consistent. According to Jerry Thomas, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Texas in Denton, who did the throwing research Hyde cites in her paper, “The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl.”

Around the world, at all ages, boys throw better — a lot better — than girls. ...

To try to distinguish nature from nurture, Thomas studied aboriginal Australian children, who grow up in a culture where both men and women hunt, and both sexes throw from childhood. ...

Aboriginal girls threw tennis balls at 78.3 percent of the velocity of boys — closer to boys than in most other cultures, but still significantly slower.

Size and strength undoubtedly also play a role, but girls and boys are about the same size as children, when there is a significant gap in overhand throwing skill. The gap widens at puberty, when the advantages of size and strength kick in. ...

The difference, [Thomas] suspects, isn’t in the arm or the torso or the shoulder. “I’d bet my bottom dollar there’s something neurological. It’s the nervous system.” ...

[Jenny Allard, coach of the Harvard women's softball team,] sees the problem even at the elite level. “I saw a potential recruit who was fast as lightning, and a great hitter. But she throws . . . ” Allard shrugs. “Like a girl.” She uses the expression without apology.
--Tamar Haspel, Washington Post, on the reality behind childhood taunts