Girls need to be taught to be more competitive in order to compete with men in areas like sport and business, a major new international study has concluded.
Researchers from Université Paris-Saclay studied more than three million games of chess played over a six-year period involving the same number of males and females players from 154 countries.
In each case they compared like for like – including age, nationality and ranking – and they concluded females were “more likely” to lose against men.
They believe psychological reasons are behind the difference and found women “shy away” from competition while the majority of men strive to win.
Study leader José de Sousa, the university’s Professor of Economics, said: “We found that male players seem to want to beat female players more and that women know that. When women are told that they tend to do worse, they usually do.”
“Women often shy away from competition. Perhaps men push harder against women. The man thinks he controls the game and has to win.”
Prof de Sousa said his team saw a difference between the sexes from every country looked at. “Studying chess eliminates the other reasons often given for the gender gap. As anyone can play, it removes discrimination. So when comparable male players were compared to similar female players, there shouldn’t have been a difference. But men were more likely to win across all countries.
“We need to work on how boys and girls view competition – teaching girls to be more competitive, and boys to be less.”
Guillaume Hollard a senior researcher in economics at CNRS, a French institution devoted to research, said the study also looked at what percentage of the world’s leading chess players were female and found they made up just 30 in the top 1,000 players.
He said: “When we looked at the data from games between 2008 and 2013, we were able to study real life and draw conclusions about why women collapse more against men than other women.”
“This psychological effect of competition may translate into women being more likely to drop out and stop putting in effort. Thus inducing an even more profound impact on the overall gender gap.”
Nigel Short, one of the UK’s greatest chess players, has previously claimed men are “hardwired” to be better at the game than women. He said people should “gracefully accept it as a fact” that men possess different skills to women that make them better able to play chess.
But Rita Atkins, a British International chess master, said: “It is a fact there are many more men than women playing chess at a very high level but it is nothing to do with the way our brains work or our mental ability.”
“I teach a lot of chess to schoolkids and I think it is to do with the fact that girls shy away from aggressive competitiveness at a young age whereas young boys are very competitive.”
But she pointed out that Short had in the past been beaten by former women’s world champion Judith Polgar.