Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Girls in the Boat: Sex Differences in Rowing Performance and Participation

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-19-2018


Sex differences, Performance, Women, Gender, Participation, Rowing


Men outperform women in many athletic endeavors due to physiological and anatomical differences (e.g. larger and faster muscle); however, the observed sex differences in elite athletic performance are typically larger than expected, and may reflect sex-related differences in opportunity or incentives. As collegiate rowing in the United States has been largely incentivized for women over the last 20 years, but not men, the purpose of this study was to examine sex differences in elite rowing performance over that timeframe. Finishing times from grand finale races for collegiate championship on-water performances (n = 480) and junior indoor performances (n = 1,280) were compared between men and women across 20 years (1997-2016), weight classes (heavy vs. lightweight) and finishing place. Participation of the numbers of men and women rowers were also quantified across years. Men were faster than women across all finishing places, weight classes and years of competition and performance declined across finishing place for both men and women (PPPP=0.899) for collegiate men. These results indicate that increased participation and incentives within collegiate rowing for women vs. men contribute to sex differences in athletic performance.