August 07, 2004

Male-Female differences in chess achievement

This paper looks at relative achievement of men and women in chess to test whether or not male-female differences in achievement diminished over time. The main conclusion is that they have remained fairly constant. In my opinion, this indicates either that (i) men are more likely to have exceptional levels of ability than women, or (ii) women are less motivated to devote the necessary time and effort to become really good chess players, or both.

Journal of Biosocial Science (2004)
DOI 10.1017/S0021932004006868




Males traditionally predominate at upper achievement levels. One general view holds that this is due only to various social factors such as the ‘glass ceiling’ and lack of female role models. Another view holds that it occurs partly because of innate ability differences, with more males being at upper ability levels. In the last few decades, women have become more achievement focused and competitive and have gained many more opportunities to achieve. The present study examined one intellectual domain, international chess, to quantify its gender differences in achievement and to see if these have been diminishing with the societal changes. Chess is a good test domain because it is a meritocracy, it has objective performance measures, and longitudinal data of a whole population are available. Performance ratings overall and in the top 10, 50 and 100 players of each sex show large gender differences and little convergence over the past three decades, although a few females have become high achievers. The distribution of performance ratings on the January 2004 list shows a higher male mean and evidence for more male variation, just as with traits such as height. Career patterns of players first on the list between 1985 and 1989 show that top males and females entered the list at about the same age but females tend to play fewer games and have shorter careers. In this domain at least, the male predominance is large and has remained roughly constant despite societal changes.

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