From my experience in tournaments until the age of 11-12, the playing strength of boys and girls is pretty similar but after 13 the difference becomes noticeable. Why is that?
Hou Yifan did an interview with Chess.com where she answered some questions about why there has been such a persistent gap between men and women when it comes to top-level chess.
[...]I do think the average rating of female players could improve, but the gap between the top women right now and the players competing for the world title is really quite large. But if you look at any sport, it’s hard to imagine girls competing at the same level as men.
But why is that the case in chess, given that there appear to be no obvious advantages of being a male player? Is it simply a matter of statistics? Far more men play, and so the chances are that someone with the natural attributes to become a 2800+ player will be a man rather than a woman?
This is true, but it’s just one of many reasons, and I’m not sure which one is the most important. I think there is a physical aspect because chess exhausts a lot of energy, especially when games last 6-7 hours, and here women could be more disadvantaged. But in general, I think women train less hard at chess compared to men while they’re growing up.
In China, girls tend to think more about university, and then things like family, life balance...while boys are more focused and persistent on that one thing. This makes a big difference. The ones who put greater effort in achieve better results. But I also think there are external factors too.
Growing up, female players are told, "If you win the girls’ title, we’ll be really proud of you, and this is a great job!" It’s unlikely that any of them were told, "No, you should be fighting for the overall title!" Girls are told at an early age that there’s a kind of gender distinction, and they should just try their best in the girls' section and be happy with that. So without the motivation to chase higher goals, it’s harder for girls to improve as fast as boys as they grow up.
Do you think there are any intrinsic differences between how men and women approach chess?
I’m just speculating but I wonder whether there is a gender difference when it comes to natural intuition or feel for the game. Because to me, in all aspects of life, sometimes women and men tend to see the same thing from completely different perspectives, and that also comes into chess. I suspect that the male perspective on chess favors men, perhaps when it comes to the emotional aspect of the game and making practical and objective decisions. To put it simplistically, I think male players tend to have a kind of overview or strategy for the whole game, rather than focusing too much attention on one part of the game. It could be interesting to explore this further. I need to do more research to answer this properly!
There was a study on this a few years ago, where researchers concluded that the number of women that were represented in the top players correlated with the number of women that participated at a young age.
This is at least intuitively correct. One of the reasons that it is so hard to make it to a professional level in certain sports is that every boy in the nation is encouraged to play, so the ones that have the "spark" get exposed at a much earlier age, and the potential pool is correspondingly larger. Other, more niche sports it's a relatively easier path to success, but conversely, less people play it so it's less likely that spark gets ignited.
Another article on Slate puts forth much the same thing, that the ratings gap also is reflected in the participation gap. While there is no hard evidence that there IS a gender difference, unfortunately there is also no evident that there is NOT a difference. Sadly, this article also cites a study that by age 6, girls are already starting to believe that they are not as smart as boys.
So tl;dr - Boys are encouraged and perceived as smarter, which leads to less participation from girls, and thus less likely that a girl that could truly excel at the game ever gets a chance to be exposed to it.
I think there are 2 factors coming into play here:a)Statistics and b)Talent
The curve of a playing strength of a player is a bell curve
, people with very much or very little talent are extremely rare.
Now the pool of male players >14 yo is much bigger than the pool of female players > 14 because many girls hit adolescence and quit chess.But if we have 1000 players it is not guaranteed that 1 player will have the playing strength of a 3000,the more players we have , the better the chance that 0.1% will play at a playing strength of 3000.
Through the evolution on average males were designed to be less emotional than women and have developed skills(hunting etc)which help them in chess.So the mean is bigger for males than for girls.
Chess has long been an elitist, aristocratic and male-centered game, and to some extent still (sadly) is.
It is in part due to history, as it was widely seen as a pastime for men who could afford investing time in it. Back in the days, women alas did not have the same status and rights as men, and were solely dedicating their lives to having children, raising them, taking care of the household. These customs of another time are evolving nowadays, but they are still very present in the collective mind. So young girls are still perceived in the collective mind as destined to grow as described women; this perception is fading as modern society evolves, but slowly. Even if this is changing, girls are still encouraged by society to be kind, caring, empathetic, when boys are encouraged to be daring, courageous, self-confident; the latter set of traits being a good starting base for playing chess for obvious reasons. Ironically, from my own long-time practice, I have found that most female players I have played against had a much more aggressive playing style than my male opponents. This has always impressed me, and to me hints on that for a female player to reach a certain level and not get disocuraged by the way the community treats them, they need to have nerves of steel.
There is, as far as I know, no scientifically-backed indication of any biological innate advantage or disadvantage for male or female brains when it comes to chess.
The educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar sort of proved that with the proper training and support, female players have very good chances of reaching the high level. He trained his three daughters Susan, Sofia and Judit in playing chess (and in learning quite a few languages), and they famously reached very high level of playing, Judit reaching world rank #8 at her peak. More about Polgar on wikipedia.
Here a personal opinion on the matter: the fact that the chess community continues separating "open" and "women's" chess is not helping closing the level gap at the top. It is understandable for promoting the game to and rewarding female players, but I feel like it reinforces the gap more than it closes it. The fact that price pools and media coverage for the female competitions are significantly lower than for the open competitions just reinforces this impact also. Less money to make as a professional player from prices might deter potential chess geniuses from even entering the field with full committment.
We want more female players, at all levels. Chess is awesome and everyone should enjoy its awesomeness :-)