March 2010

IZA DP No. 4838: An Economic Model of the Evolution of the Gender Performance Ratio in Individual Sports

published in: International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 2012, 12 (1), 222-245

This paper shows that the gender world record ratio in four disciplines, i.e. marathon, triple jump, pole vault and 800 meters, follows an S-shape over time. It is argued that this pattern is initiated by a sudden drop in the social barrier for women to participate in these disciplines. This drop in social barrier materializes – later – by the authorization for women to participate at major events, such as the Olympic Games, in these disciplines. The paper builds a simple economic model of sector self-selection and human capital accumulation with intrinsic disutility (social barriers) to participate in some sectors. As social barriers are removed in a sector, the Gender Performance Ratio is shown to follow an S-shape over time under very basic assumptions and calibrations. Ability self-selection, measured as the difference between mean ability of women in that sector and population mean, becomes more positive after removal of the social barrier.