The link between Japanese speedboat racing and gender gaps in performance and aggression is probably not an obvious one for most, and yet ANU College of Business and Economics academic Professor Alison Booth has been investigating the relationship.
What is Japanese speedboat racing?
Japanese speedboat racing is a tightly controlled sport, in which racers receive exactly the same intensive training and are then randomly assigned to mixed-sex or single-sex teams. The amount of controlled elements makes it a stable and rich source for behavioural research and comparisons with other institutions.
Professor Booth’s research found that women achieve a slower time in mixed-sex races than in all-women races, whereas men achieve faster times in mixed-sex races than men-only races.
“Female competitive performance, even for women who have chosen a competitive career and are very good at it, is enhanced by being in a single-sex environment rather than in a mixed-sex environment in which they are a minority.”
Victory at any cost
Within the event itself, racers can be penalised or disqualified for breaking the rules, but in order to get an advantage, they must weigh this risk against the benefit of more aggressive lane changing.
Lane changing and rule-breaking are both factors in Japanese speedboat racing that signify aggressive tactics, as they can provide a benefit at the risk of failure or disqualification. The research reported that men were more likely to engage in these aggressive race tactics in mixed-gender races, whereas women’s tactics are less aggressive.
“Racing in an inner lane confers an advantage. While racers are allowed to change lanes during the race, they are disqualified and face severe penalties if they interrupt other racers’ runs. Thus, changing to an inner lane requires a highly skilled technique in order not to interrupt others.”
Beyond the races
The gender imbalance inherent in the mixed-sex races is a good parallel for disciplines or fields, such as STEM, with a disproportionately large number of male to female representation. This research suggested this gender imbalance may trigger awareness of gender identity for both men and women and that this might form part of the reason for differences in behaviour across the mixed- and single-sex groups.
“These results suggest that women are less inclined to adopt strategically aggressive behavior—or are less successful at blocking it—when men take part in the race.”
The research featured in this article was written by Professor Alison Booth and Professor Eiji Yamamura. It was published in The Review of Economics and Statistics by MIT Press Journals and is available to read here.
Alison Booth’s fourth novel, ‘A Perfect Marriage’, was published in the UK last year.