Over at Pure Pedantry, Jake Young reports on a major study into the reasons for the dearth of women among competitive chessplayers. His conclusion:
I am going to make an analogy to make this data make more sense. Why does it seem like the US has substantially fewer good soccer players than the rest of the world? We clearly have good athletes. We play other sports well. We train athletes just as well. Why do other countries do so much better?
The answer is that when you are a good athlete in the US, you do not play soccer. You end up playing something else like football or basketball. The difference in performance is related to a difference in participation.
This data strongly argues that the difference in performance of women in chess is also a problem of participation. The problem is not that women can’t play chess well. The problem is that enough women who play chess well are not choosing to play chess. There may be several reasons socially why they choose not to do so or are discouraged from doing so — I will let you speculate about that at your leisure. However, this data strongly supports the participation rate hypothesis.
Speaking as someone who spends a lot of time hanging around chess tournaments, I can say with some confidence that this explanation is correct.
I know a lot of people whio enjoy playing chess but who have no interest in participating in rated events. Most major chess tournaments take place over holiday weekends. They require a large investment of time and money. They also typically involve a lengthy trip to the playing site and a significant hotel bill while you are there. Your meals will consist largely of fast food scarfed down in the short break between rounds.
When you arrive at the playing site, you quickly make the discovery that chess players, let’s face it, are not big on personal grooming. In fact, they’re pretty disgusting. I’m talking about morbidly obese people wearing T-shirts so threadbare that nothing is left to the imagination. T-shirts that are one big armpit stain. People with the BO ramped up to such a level, you figure it’s probably a deliberate tactic. People who probably haven’t done laundry, ever. God help you if the AC goes down. You’ll dream about hanging around in a men’s locker room. I once played a game against a charming gentleman who sat down and placed an empty beer bottle next to the board. He needed it for a spittoon. As the game progressed I had the pleasure of watching the level of expectorated, tobacco flecked spittle climb up the sides of the bottle. (Yes, I won the game). You’ve got to really love the game to put up with that.
I really do not think it is so unlikely that a relatively small percentage of women relative to men would find it appealing to spend their holiday weekends in such a fashion.