Are segregated sports classes scientifically justified?

Sian Lawson, Edward Hall

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School sports classes are a key part of physical and mental development, yet in many countries these classes are gender segregated. Before institutionalised segregation can be condoned it is important to tackle assumptions and check for an evidence-based rationale. This presentation aims to analyse the key arguments for segregation given in comment-form response to a recent media article discussing mixed school sports (Lawson, 2013). The primary argument given was division for strength, ability or protection (75% comments). It is a common, but false assumption, that young female bones are more breakable or girls more fragile when given the same level of exercise. Schools already have fairly homogenous groupings due to age-based classes. At school age variation within gender is larger than variation between genders, yet there is no tendency to segregate a sports class on the basis of height or strength, only to segregate for gender. The secondary argument was that keeping children separate avoids behavioural issues including self-consciousness, sexual harassment or discrimination (13% comments). As segregation isn’t realistic as a life-long strategy, we must question the validity of losing this controlled opportunity to teach respect. Indeed, people raised in segregated environments as minors have been shown to experience greater social anxiety in the adult world. Segregation moves gender politics to identity politics. There is no evidence for widely-held scientifically-valid reasons to segregate gender at school, yet it is socially accepted. Teaching curriculums are often blamed for specifying game-based activities, but there’s no physiological reason why in the UK boys play football and girls rounders, or in the USA soccer is considered a “girls sport” and baseball is “for boys”. Children’s development is shaped by the environment and value systems they are placed in. If we are to condone belief in individual variation over stereotyping the curriculums should enforce this.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport - Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 1 Jan 2014 → …


Conference6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport
Period1/01/14 → …
Internet address


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