The Gender Gap in Swimming
Print Friendly and PDF

Swimming is a sport in which more girls than boys compete, so it’s pretty interesting for looking at the gender gap, which changes by age:

Sex differences in youth elite swimming
Jonathon W. Senefeld, Andrew J. Clayburn,Sarah E. Baker, Rickey E. Carter,Patrick W. Johnson, Michael J. Joyner
Published: November 22, 2019

… We collected the all-time top 100 U.S. freestyle swimming performance times of boys and girls age 5 to 18 years for the 50m to 1500m events.

Swimming performance improved with increasing age for boys and girls (p<0.001) until reaching a plateau, which initiated at a younger age for girls (15 years) than boys (17 years; sex×age; p<0.001).

Prior to age 10, the top 5 swimming records for girls were 3% faster than the top boys (p<0.001). For the 10th-50th places, however, there were no sex-related differences in swimming performance prior to age 10 (p = 0.227).

For both the top 5 and 10th-50th places, the sex difference in performance increased from age 10 (top 5, 2.5%; 10th-50th places, 1.0%) until age 17 (top 5, 7.6%; 10th-50th places, 8.0%). For all places, the sex difference in performance at age 18 was larger for sprint events (9.6%; 50-200m) than endurance events (7.1%; 400-1500m; p<0.001).

Men probably keep getting faster into their early 20s so the Olympic gender gap is a little bigger than the age 18 gap. At the 2016 Olympics, the gold medal woman took 10.8% longer to swim freestyle 100 meter than the gold medal man. That’s quite similar to the gender gap in running, that’s usually around 11%.

Additionally, the sex-related difference in performance increased across age and US ranking from 2.4% for 1st place to 4.3% for 100th place (p<0.001), indicating less depth of performance in girls than boys. However, annual participation was ~20% higher in girls than boys for all ages (p<0.001).

… Collectively, these data suggest girls are faster, or at least not slower, than boys prior to the performance-enhancing effects of puberty.

[Comment at]

Print Friendly and PDF