Is It True That Women Actually Handle Pressure Better Than Men?

Tennis racket and tennis ball on table

In this battle of the sexes, the data says yes.

In an effort to understand the differential tolerance of pressure between men and women, a team of researchers under Dr. Alex Krumer used decisive moments in major tennis matches to assess the situation. Why tennis? Well, as a single-player sport, it’s easy to measure the outcomes of one person’s actions. Scoring is decisive as well; points are the results of clear and immediately visible actions, unlike in a more nuanced team sport, such as soccer. Also, you can easily imagine the immense pressure on the shoulders of competitors in the final moments of a Wimbledon match, with the eyes of the world watching every bounce of the ball.

Dr. Krumer’s team found that when the match reached a critical juncture, the male players choked more often than the women. Even more than that, as Dr. Krumer told the Harvard Business Review: “In sets that went to 4–4, the number of men’s serves that were broken rose more than seven percentage points after the players had reached the tie. Among women, we saw barely any difference between pre- and post-tie performance.”

That’s not to say that all the women were perfect players, but they appeared to hold their ground a bit better, “. . . even when female athletes’ play did deteriorate as pressure increased, the drop in performance was about 50 percent less, on average, than that of their male counterparts,” says Dr. Krumer.

How’s that for playing like a girl?