Why are men better chess players than women?

There is now a comprehensive study.  Two results struck me:

They found no greater variance in men than women.  It
had been suggested that since science selects for individuals at the
upper tail of the distribution, a higher variance in men than women
might explain their greater representation.  However, the researchers
found that — with respect to chess — if anything in most age groups
women had a higher variance then men.  Upper tail effects do not explain
the differences in the numbers of grandmasters…

And:

If you look at the participation rate of women and relate that
to performance, you find that in cases where the participation rate of
women and men is equal the disparity in ability vanishes.
 
Basically, this means that in zip codes where there are equal numbers
of men and women players there is no great disparity between male and
female ability — and certainly not a disparity in ability large enough
to explain the difference in the numbers of grandmasters.

Chess players, of course, have clearly defined numerical performance ratings, which measure quality quite accurately.  The bottom line seems to be that men simply care more about doing well at chess, I might add that this speaks well for women.  Of course this preference-based explanation can be tested further; it implies that women should have greater relative chess strength in poorer countries, where they are more likely to play for a living and not just for fun.  I believe this to be true, most of all in China.

The pointer is from Daniel Strauss Vasques.  On related issues, here is my earlier paper, "Why Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts."

Comments

This question is similar to one I was pondering last night. During the World Series of Poker last night (I have no idea if the episode was current or not), the announcers made a big deal out of the four women remaining in the tournament. At the same time, several hundred men were vying for the coveted “final table† spots. Why should a game like poker or chess have male dominated upper-echelons? As anecdotal evidence, I play family style poker about once a week with both women and men. In these games, the women generally play as well as the men (most of us have no idea what we are doing). The players in my poker circle that pursue poker more extensively (playing in casinos and online) are all men, however. For some reason, men seem to simply care more about a game than women do. My women friends are shocked at the idea of playing online poker multiple hours a night while my male friends seem (hopelessly?) attracted to the idea.

Tyler: "I might add this speaks well for women."

H.L. Mencken said the same. In his book In Defense of Women, he maintained that men outperform women in specific pursuits (chess, music, poetry, science, nonfiction prose) because women have the good sense not become obsessed with such things. The one area in which he saw women as keeping up pretty well with men was the novel. Camilia Paglia says similar.

Looking at the paper, I'm not sure how they can rule out the fact that the 4 high girl participation zip codes simply have larger numbers of high interest/chess aptitude girl than boy chess players. It's not as if they took two large grade schools and forced all boys and girls to play chess after school in one place and allowed boys and girls to choose to play chess on their own in the other.

I agree with Dan Klein's - women don't seem to be as obsessive as men. For what it's
worth you can see this effect even in competitions where there are more women than
men, such as Scrabble. There are more women who play scrabble, but the very top
competitors are still mostly men.
It's consistent with what I've seen of computer programmers too. I've seen many
good female computer programmers, but the monomaniacs who could throw down code
as fast as they could type were all men.

I don't think it's a good summary that "[t]he bottom line seems to be that men simply care more about doing well at chess." Young notes that the difference could easily be due to women being encouraged to play chess less than men are encouraged to rather than to some endogenous difference in interest. Given the enormous differences in the ways girls and boys are treated it would be astounding if it weren't at least a significant part of the explanation.

[The bottom line seems to be that men simply care more about doing well at chess]

I think this is quite a loaded implication to draw out of the data.

Surely the hypothesis of interest is one of "sexism" - that women do not participate in chess as much as men because men exert social pressure to exclude women. Anyone who's been to a chess club would surely regard this as at least prima facie not a ridiculous hypothesis. I don't think that the data exclude it either. "Men simply care more about doing well" seems to me to exclude this hypothesis on the basis of no real evidence, when surely the Bayesian prior would be that exclusionary behaviour by men has quite significant importance.

"Surely the hypothesis of interest is one of "sexism" - that women do not participate in chess as much as men because men exert social pressure to exclude women. Anyone who's been to a chess club would surely regard this as at least prima facie not a ridiculous hypothesis."

That chess geeks do not want chicks around is, on its face, a ridiculous hypothesis.

The question of why there are so few women grand masters was not answered by studying average groups of chess players and finding no significant differences between boys and girls or men and women. Sameness near the middle of a distribution tells us nothing about the extreme tails.

We have not seen any women to equal Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking or Isaac Newton or other super geniuses in physics or math. We have not seen any women chess players that have been close to the abilities of Bobby Fisher or Gary Kasparov. I do not believe that is due to discrimination or cultural biases. There are plenty of women in science and medicine, but none have been among the most elite. There is strong evidence that men have slight advantages in some areas (spatial orientation, number manipulation). Thus, it is unsurprising that the most elite mathematicians, physicists, and chess players have been men. Women have slight advantages in other areas (language and interaction skills). Thus, the best and most brilliant (in my opinion) of the computer language and compiler developers was a woman, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who earned her math Ph.D. in 1934 and began her computer language work in 1943.

In other words, it is much more costly for women to become good at chess than men, because of the behaviour of a large minority of social retards in chess clubs.

In other words, you got your ego punctured at a few chess clubs, and instead of searching inward for the cause, you projected outward instead. And you accuse ziel of rationalizing?

Your theory is ridiculous on its face from its Leftist political premises alone, but even granted those, you aren't accounting for the fact that readily available computers have been able to play chess for three decades now... "chess clubs" are by no means the only way into the game.

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Re women playing chess less well than men..

Some comments: chess clubs DO tend to be male dominated and they are conducted in an atmosphere which favours competitiveness over socialising..this is uncomfortable for most women who prefer a blend in their sporting activities...

After struggling with the chilly and aggressive atmosphere of a chess club I gave up playing chess for years until online chess became popular and acceptable - since then I've been playing all the time and am happy with my steady improvement..

There are very many women playing online these days - and some of them at a very high level. I fully expect to see more women at grandmaster level in the future if they have been coached well and gained lots of practice through internet playing...

While playing with both men and women online I have noticed that women do tend to create a social atmosphere around the games, exchanging personal information and offering encouragement. Women rarely make sarcastic comments or criticise each other's moves. I think men are beginning to also gain from this more relaxed approach - although teenage boys are still absolute nightmare competitors who try to tear their opponents apart with abuse :)

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There is of course the theory that a typical male is more aggressive than the typical female. It could very well stand to reason that in order to psychologically sustain oneself for high-level competition an aggressive attitude is needed. So it's not whether men are better than women at *chess*. It's how men tend to deal with their emotions that may be relevant.

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