In a recent blog post, I noted that only 1% of chess grandmasters are women.
Part of the reason for this is that women lack the urge to win, as explained in a John Tierney column from 2005.
Tierney explains that women outnumber men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments, but at the very top of the game, men dominate. “Among the top-ranked 50 players, typically about 45 are men.” Women aren’t interested in doing what it takes to get to the top. What it takes is spending hours a day memorizing letter combinations and doing Scrabble drills on the computer.
Tierney has a quote from Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University:
Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy, because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don't get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They're just as competitive with themselves - they want to do a good job just as much as men do - but men want to be more competitive with others.
A quote from a NY Times article about girls and chess lends support to the observation that males have an innate desire to win that females lack:
Players, parents and chess promoters say they see differences in play that are surprisingly stereotypical: boys are always on the attack and care above all about winning, while girls focus more on defense and admire the art of certain positions.
Even at a young age, boys play games to win to a noticeably greater extent than girls.
This explains why men outnumber women at World of Warcraft. When men see a status hierarchy, they have a biological urge to get to the top of it, even if it’s a stupid status hierarchy.
This doesn’t explain why women like Scrabble and men like chess. It probably has something to do with the fact that women are more verbal than men, and Scrabble involves making words. Chess is non-verbal and taps into men’s better spatial abilities.
The NY Times article about chess says that girls complained that they don’t have any female friends to play chess with because “their female friends were too busy with ballet or soccer to learn a game they saw as boring.” The key word is that girls find chess boring.
Men and women’s different attitudes towards games is a mirror of what’s going on in the non-gaming world. Larry Summers lost his job at Harvard for saying something about men and women and science. But clearly the reason why so few women go into science in the first place is because it’s non-verbal and therefore “boring” to most women. And even women who enter science don’t make it to the very top because they lack the urge to win.
Gay men also have the urge to win. According to a NY Times article about fashion designers, 85% and 93% of the students at two leading fashion schools are women, but the top levels of fashion design are dominated by gay men. Even when competing against gay men, women don’t have what it takes to get to the top. (Although the NY Times article is full of complaints by women that gay men are keeping the straight women down.)