Now that the Beijing Olympics have come to an end, people in the Netherlands are pretty satisfied with the amount of medals won by Dutch sportsmen and -women. Interestingly though, these medals have been predominantly won by Dutch women. This has been widely analyzed in newspapers and on television, but unfortunately I think some of these analyses were completely wrong.
It was often argued that it is inherent to women in general to have a stronger will and desire than men to reach the goals they set for themselves. This might very well be, but that cannot explain the relative success of Dutch women over Dutch men, unless this stronger feminine willpower is a phenomenon exclusive to the Dutch. Otherwise, the strong will-powered Dutch women just compete against other strong will-powered women from other countries, and the weakly will-powered Dutch male athletes compete with other rather weak opponents. Clearly, this did not seem to be the case …
In general, the analysts shouldn’t have argued about differences between men and women in general, but about differences between the relative strength of Dutch women over other women, compared with the relative strength of Dutch men over other men.
Unequal women empowerment?
What might be an explanation then? We might find one by looking at the position that women have in their society. Traditionally, sports in the world have been dominated by men, but due to their increasingly equal opportunities in society, their participation in sports increased as well. If indeed a relationship exists between women empowerment and their results on the sports fields, we might not only expect better results over the years, but also smaller differences between the results of men and women.
To test this, I made some plots. Below, the results needed to win the Gold Medal on Javelin throwing on the Olympics, 100 meters running on the Olympics, and 500 meters speed skating on the World Championships, are shown. The red dots show the results of the men, the blue dots those of the women. The grey lines represent the general tendency of the lines, and in all three graphs, it is clear that the two lines tend to converge. Don’t be mislead by the small decrease of the differences between men and women: the initial differences were already very small, so a small absolute decrease is rather large on a relative scale.
Does this tell us anything about why Dutch women performed so much better than Dutch men did? No, of course not, for I did not take into account the Beijing Olympics, nor nationality. Nevertheless, if we accept that the increasingly strong position of women in society (in general) indeed leads to their achieving better sports results, we might also want to compare the position of Dutch women in Dutch society with that of women in many other countries. Compared to many other countries, Dutch women have a strong position in society. Perhaps, the Dutch think more seriously about women sports than is done in other countries.
If this is the case, the sport results of Dutch women is due to their empowerment in Dutch society. Perhaps women sports will increasingly receive more attention in other countries as well. Wouldn’t that be golden?