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Men Outperform Women At Scrabble Because Women Have Better Things To Do

New research attempts to explain why competitive Scrabble is dominated by men—and it's because women recognize it's just a fun, enjoyable game to be played with friends.
Photo by Cindy Prins via Stocksy

I don't play Scrabble because I have many better things to do, like wet-wiping my bathroom floor in lieu of digging out a mop and keeping a meticulously maintained shit list in my iPhone notes of everyone who's ever wronged me. Guess what? I'm not alone. There's a gender gap in the Scrabble big leagues—and some scientists honestly believe it's because women have better things to do.

A research team from the University of Miami analyzed 255 male and female players at the 2004 and 2008 US National Scrabble tournaments, handing out a questionnaire that asked them to estimate how many hours a week they spend playing Scrabble alone versus playing it as part of a group setting. They were also asked how enjoyable and difficult they found varying activities to improve their skill set, from playing in a group to practising alone.


A gender gap does exist in the world of competitive Scrabble: According to the researchers, all of the last ten world champions have been male. The world's current top-ranked player is male, and none of the top 15-rated players are women.

Read more: Gamers Have Lower Sex Drives than Other Men, Study Finds

Until now, no one had really investigated the reasons behind the gap between male and female Scrabble performance. But the research team was confident it wasn't down to a matter of innate ability.

"We don't really have a measure of innate ability," says Dr. Jerad Moxley, who co-authored the study. "But it's highly unlikely there's an innate ability difference that's directly affecting Scrabble skill between men and women."

One compelling explanation for why men are more successful at Scrabble then women? Because women have better things to do than endlessly sit alone, practicing their anagram clusters—they play Scrabble for fun because… It's a game.

"Men spent more time analyzing their games and reviewing their games, looking at anagrams by themselves," explains Moxley, saying that men and women tended to spend the same amount of time a week playing Scrabble, but in different ways. "No one really enjoyed the solitary practice, but men hated it less than women did." Conversely, women favored the social aspect of Scrabble, like playing in groups for the enjoyment of the game.

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Moxley's team found that participating in solo Scrabble practice was the best predictor of better competitive performance. This difference in methods of practice—solitary versus social—may explain why men outperform women in Scrabble.

"Men are rewarded more for competitiveness and competitiveness is viewed as a masculine trait," Moxley tells Broadly. "So this could be explained by gender socialization theory [the idea men and women are conditioned by birth to behave differently]."

But perhaps the most important takeaway here was that women enjoyed playing Scrabble in social and non-tournament games more than men. Maybe that's because they see it for what it is: an enjoyable game to be played with friends, rather than an obsessive, solitary pursuit.