On Throwing Like A Girl

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In the WaPo. Here’s an excerpt:

The throwing gap has been researched for more than half a century, and the results have been consistent. According to Jerry Thomas, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Texas in Denton, who did the throwing research Hyde cites in her paper, “The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl.”

Around the world, at all ages, boys throw better — a lot better — than girls. Studies of overhand ball throwing across different cultures have found that pre-pubescent girls throw 51 to 69 percent of the distance that boys do, at 51 to 78 percent of the velocity. As they get older, the differences increase; one U.S. study found that girls age 14 to 18 threw only 39 percent as far as boys (an average of about 75 feet vs. about 192 feet). The question is why.

Since boys generally learn to throw young and do more throwing than girls do, it would make sense that they’re better at it, and Thomas acknowledges the nurture component. “The gap is much larger than it should be, and it would be smaller if girls got more practice,” he says.

To try to distinguish nature from nurture, Thomas studied aboriginal Australian children, who grow up in a culture where both men and women hunt, and both sexes throw from childhood. “Our hypothesis was that [the aboriginal] girls would be better throwers and not as different from the boys as in European, Chinese, Australian and all the U.S. cultures.”

The data bore him out. Aboriginal girls threw tennis balls at 78.3 percent of the velocity of boys — closer to boys than in most other cultures, but still significantly slower. (Throwing distance wasn’t measured.)

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