Does gender inequality moderate sex differences in sport across countries?


Although sex differences in preferences for sport are well established, there are competing hypotheses regarding their origins. The Spectator Lek Hypothesis maintains that sex differences in preferences for sport are partly evolved and thus should be universal or near universal, whereas socio-constructivist hypotheses argue that such sex differences are entirely socially constructed and thus should vary as a function of a society's gender inequality. To test these competing hypotheses, cross-national nested data were acquired from the International Social Survey Program (ss = 49,729, ncountries = 34). Non-linear hierarchal Bernoulli modelling was employed to examine if sex differences in sport participation, fandom, and reasons for participating in sport are universal or near universal, and if there is a moderating effect of countries' gender inequality. Our findings indicate that gender inequality is associated with increased sex differences in sport, albeit marginally and only for some sport behaviours. However, even when accounting for the moderating effect of gender inequality, males are more likely to report general sport participation (OR = 4.09, 95% CI = 3.13-5.34), team sport participation (OR = 4.19, 95% CI = 3.13-5.34), watching sport on television (OR = 2.32, 95% CI = 1.69-3.17), to agree that they play sport to compete (OR = 2.03, 95% CI = 1.79-2.31), but not to attend sporting events (OR = 1.47, 95% CI = .94-2.31). These results highlight the possible role of countries' gender inequality while supporting the spectator lek hypothesis.

Acknowledgments: The authors would also like to thank Mark Eys and Laurene Rehman for helpful comments and criticisms of earlier drafts.