Substack cometh, and lo it is good. (Pricing)

In grip strength a woman in the 90th percentile would be at the 10th percentile for men

In relation to the title of this post, it is more accurate to say that a 35 year old British woman who is in the 90th percentile, at 39 kg, would be at the 10th percentile in 35 year old British men. But she would be at the 50th percentile for a 70 year old man. Another way to look at it is that an average 35 year old woman is as strong as an average 80 year old man.

Also of interest, 90 year old men have stronger grip strength than 10 year old boys (25 kg vs. 17 kgs) but 90 year old women have weaker grip strength than 10 year old girls (14 kg vs. 16 kgs). There is a major difference in life trajectory. Men and women start off with the same upper body strength as boys and girls in elementary school. But between ages 10 and 30 years men really outpace women.

Here’s a chart I constructed from the data with male an female at 10th, 50th, and 90th, percentiles:

Look at what happens to girls/women in the 90th percentile between 10 and 30. Because girls develop faster they are highly competitive with boys up until around 15, and then the “great grip divergence” kicks in. Both men and women get stronger between 20 and 30 (to my surprise), but men gain a lot more. At age 30 in standard deviation units the average women is about two standard deviation units below the average man. This would put the average women at the 2.5th percentile of men assuming a normal distribution. The raw table is below the fold at the bottom of this post. The paper is Grip Strength across the Life Course: Normative Data from Twelve British Studies.

The data to the left are from the paper Hand-grip strength of young men, women and highly trained female athletes. It is a German study, and compared three populations: normal men, normal women, and elite national level athletes in Germany in judo and handball. Judo and handball were selected because grip strength are at a premium in these two sports.

To their surprise the average female athlete was at the 25th percentile for males.

Many people will find this post a bit ridiculous. Who doesn’t know that men aren’t stronger than women?

First, there are some academics who believe that increased training will allow women to converge with men in strength, and therefore they propose to end sex segregation in sports. Proponents of this view say thinks like this:

Could that change? Could women start catching up with men again? After all, people used to say women were unable to handle political office. Even the slowest-converging lines eventually do merge; the truth is nobody knows for sure if that’s the case here. The history of women in sports is a history of being gradually allowed access to social privileges which have made them better athletes, and there could yet be undiscovered factors at play that could make the gap smaller.

There’s no comparison between political office and athletic performance. Second, the slowest converging lines do not eventually merge by necessity.

Second sometimes it is good to have numbers. I am not in the habit of getting into fights with women, ten year olds, or senior citizens, so I don’t have a quantitative grasp of how I “stack up.” I don’t beat my children so I don’t have a good sense of how much stronger than them I am, though my parents did beat me on occasion so I have an intuition about how it is on the other end. My grip strength is probably five times greater than my daughter’s. Good to know.


9 thoughts on “In grip strength a woman in the 90th percentile would be at the 10th percentile for men

  1. Here are some anecdata at the very extreme right hand end of the distribution. Climbing is a highly grip-strength dependent sport – albeit relative rather than absolute grip strength. There are a few national or even world class climbing competitions where men & women compete in the same qualifying rounds, and in these the top women typically place respectably but not high enough that they would make the male semifinals – hence there are separate semifinals and finals. In two separate instances I recall in recent years, the reigning women’s world champion placed in the mid-30s overall in the qualifying round.

  2. My father’s about 50 years older than me and I was always impressed that even into my early 20’s he had a stronger grip. But based on the chart here that’s well within the range of plausibility.

  3. The problem here Razib is that you believe male and female are biological facts determined by an external reality. Advanced thinkers now understand that they are social constructs imposed on sapient creatures by the Patriarchy. Women can achieve anything athletically that men can achieve.

    For example, Caitlyn Jenner, who revealed self to be a woman recently, won an Olympic decathlon, although at that time Caitlyn had to disguise self as a man named Bruce because women were not allowed to complete in the Decathlon.

    You really need to understand the most modern and correct approaches to gender assignment. A good introduction is to be found at this article URL.

    O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation — anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’URL

  4. Interesting. I imagine climbing would be one sport where the greater upper body strength of men would be at least partly canceled out by greater body weight, since the main weight your trying to manipulate is yourself. But than I guess men also have an average height/reach advantage.

  5. Walter’s comment does bring up a related issue.

    How much different would the performance of genetically male vs. female be if any and all type of hormones or drugs would be allowed?

    It would be very interesting to see an alternate Olympics, with no testing, and no divisions based on size or biological sex. Just one winner per event.

  6. “Who doesn’t know that men aren’t stronger than women?”

    Could you clarify this sentence? Is it sarcasm, or a strange way of saying something? The multiple negatives are confusing.

  7. “It would be very interesting to see an alternate Olympics, with no testing, and no divisions based on size or biological sex. Just one winner per event.”

    If you were old enough, you would remember the creatures that the East Germans sent to the Olympics in the 1960s and 1970s. Steroid monstrosities. Very nasty to look at.

  8. You’re right about the height/reach advantage on real rock, but competitions are held on artificial walls where the routesetters try to make things as height-neutral as possible – they make things harder by using smaller or more rounded holds, or movement sequences that are non-obvious to figure out, rather than by having the holds further apart.

    There’s also a size of hand advantage for small women and kids – as soon as you can get more than the last joint of your fingers onto a hold, more of the forearm muscles come into play.

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