The British study „This Girl Can“ by SPORT ENGLAND (a campaign to promote sporting activity among women in England) examines the fact that women enjoy sport less than men.
What is the „Enjoyment Gap“? Meaning, definition, explanation
Causes for the „Enjoyment Gap“ are on the one hand on the emotional level, but on the other hand also on the physical level. There are both biological and psychological causes that lead to different behavior of men and women with regard to sports. However, there are also external reasons for the so-called „enjoyment gap“. The Corona pandemic and the economic crisis meant that women spent less money on leisure activities and at the same time had less time for themselves. If they did play sports, they showed little sign of recovery, according to the British survey. Consistent with men, however, they said they enjoyed being active. So how does the „enjoyment gap“ come about?
Cause 1: social component
Feeling part of a community goes a long way toward making women feel good about exercising. This can include meeting up with female friends, where they tend to play sports on the side. 51% of the women surveyed said they enjoy the social side of the activity most of all. So, unlike men, most women get excited about sports on a social level rather than on the benefits. If the sports offerings are tailored to women’s needs, they can certainly be won over to them.
Cause 2: Atmosphere and location of the sports facility
The environment has a decisive influence on whether women feel they have been made to feel at home. In the survey, as many as 18% of women said that the location, equipment and appearance of the venue were among the factors that determined whether or not they enjoyed the sport. Women need to be able to show themselves as they are here, i.e. not have to fear and hide from critical looks. For women, this means that if the sports facility does not suit their circumstances, they will not participate in sports.
Cause 3: Safety of sports facilities
One in five women stated in the survey that they do not feel safe playing sports. The Enjoyment Gap can be closed relatively easily by addressing structural issues and removing barriers that are uninviting or even dangerous to women. When women feel safe and welcome, sports activities are affirmed.
The issue has also been explored by other stakeholders. Here are their theories and findings:
Biological reasons for women’s lower levels of sports participation
Physical conditions also prevent women from developing readiness for and enjoyment of sports. The female cycle has a major influence. During menstruation, all women experience strong fluctuations in performance. After all, women lose blood and also the important trace element iron during this time. This causes them to be more tired and less able to perform. Abdominal cramps and sleep problems also cause performance to drop. It would make sense to train according to the cycle. This could look like this:
1. during the period, the hormone levels for estrogen and progesterone drop. When the body needs energy, it has to resort to sugar. During this phase of the cycle, endurance sports would be especially good for women.
2. After the period, progesterone and estrogen levels rise again. Women now experience a surge of energy. This phase of the cycle is good for building muscle.
3. During the ovulation phase, hormone levels are highest and women are often tired. This is the time for a quiet, gentle workout.
4. just before the period, the willingness to perform is the lowest, because the circulation weakens. Many women are especially tired now. They suffer from migraines and often also from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Gentle sports such as yoga or Pilates are ideal during this time.
Hypotheses: What else could be the reason for the difference in performance?
There are other reasons why women don’t enjoy sports nearly as much as men. Psychology and evolution play a role in this, speculate psychologists Robert Deaner and Michael Lombardo of Grand Valley State University. They examined the gender differences in more detail and came up with several hypotheses. They published their findings on evolutionary causes for sports preferences in men and women in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
While men like to show off their physicality, women tend to participate passively in sports. The phenomenon is detectable in all hunter-gatherer societies and could be evolutionary. The researchers believe that it has probably been advantageous in human history for women to be less interested in sports than men. They believe the behavior is related to reproductive success. They speculate that men tend to form groups because cohesion makes it easier to repel foreign groups. They believe that male enthusiasm for sports has less to do with social skills than with physical fitness. Sports are more important for the individual than for the group, and they make it possible to compare oneself with others. Men are much more receptive to „measuring themselves“ than women. Last but not least, hormones in the womb also influence the development of different interests.