The Effects of Athletics and Gender Role on the Self-Esteem 
                             of Female College Students
                          Lauren McNamara
 Saint Anselm College
Abstract Acknowledgements Introduction
Method Results Discussion
Relevant Links


The literature has found conflicting results on the effects that athletics have on the self-esteem of females.  Several studies have also found that female athletes are more androgynous than nonathletes and this may be a contributing factor to the differences in self-esteem.  This study was done on a group of 34 females from a small, Catholic, liberal arts college in the northeast.  The research looked to determine if there are significant differences in self-esteem and/or gender role orientation between a group of athletes and nonathletes.  Nineteen of the participants were athletes and fifteen were nonathletes.  Athletes were defined as those who played a varsity sport for two or more seasons in high school.  Participants were given a background information questionnaire, the Bem Sex Role Inventory and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory.  There were no significant differences found between the groups on self-esteem, but the self-esteem of the athlete group was higher than the nonathlete group as predicted.  The mean scores for athletes were also higher than the nonathletes on masculinity, femininity and androgyny.  These results imply that female athletes have a lot of both feminine and masculine characteristics (resulting in androgyny).  The correlation between self-esteem and masculinity found significant results for the overall group and for the nonathletes.  This suggests that female participation in athletics leads to an increase in masculine characteristics and that masculine traits may be a strong predictor of high self-esteem.  This research should encourage females to participate in athletics for the positive emotional effects they can provide.



I would like to thank everyone that has helped me get through this semester and keep a smile on my face (most of the time).  First off, I want to thank Professor Ossoff for all of her help, guidance and encouragement along the way.  I also want to thank Professor McKenna for all of her help in Experimental I.  Thanks to all of the volunteers and friends who took part in this study.  It would not have been possible without your help.  Thanks also goes out to my friends who have put up with my complaints all semester...especially  Mary Anne, I would never have finished without you. Thanks for always putting things in perspective for me and for being around whenever I needed you.  Thanks to my roommates Bihhy, Tanir and Nax and to Patrice for their support and for always knowing just how to make me laugh when I wanted to cry. Thanks also to Mark (Bark) Hogan for all of your help in the computer lab.  Lastly, I want to thank Mom, Dad and Jenna for their love and support throughout this long process and for listening to me whine about all of my computer problems. 


There has been a huge increase in the number of girls participating in high school sports over the past few decades.  It was reported that in 1971, only 1 in 27 girls participated in sports, while that number increased to 1 in 3 girls in 1994 (Baum, 1994).  Athletics may impact issues surrounding the self-esteem and overall mental health of female adolescents.  There is much evidence in support of the idea that female athletes have a significantly higher self-esteem than nonathletes (Novick, 1991); yet there is some evidence to the contrary (Fisher, 1996).  The issue of the impact of gender role pressures may also be of importance to the female athlete. It has been suggested that female athletes may have more masculine traits than nonathletes (Novick, 1999; Covey & Feltz, 1991). This study will attempt to address both of these issues by attempting to 1.) determine whether or not there is a significant difference in the self-esteem of female athletes and nonathletes; and 2.)look at the part that gender role orientation plays in athletics.  These issues are of great importance as girls continue to participate in athletic endeavors. 


Biddle (1993) reported that the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has found evidence to support the idea that exercise has beneficial emotional effects for both males and females.  The research supports the following conclusions: 1) exercise has beneficial emotional effects across all ages and in both sexes  2) exercise has been associated with decreased levels of mild to moderate depression; and 3)  Long-term exercise is usually associated with reductions in traits such as neuroticism and anxiety.  However, some questions were raised because much of the research done by the NIMH was done on an adult population.  The research suggests that although exercise produces mental health benefits in adults, more tentative conclusions should be drawn about children because this area has not been researched as thoroughly. Stephens (1988) conducted a secondary analysis (looked at previous research) of four surveys in order to determine if there is an association between physical activity and various aspects of mental health.  The subjects ranged in age from fourteen to fifty.  He found that level of physical activity is positively correlated with a positive mood, general well being, and decreased levels of depression and anxiety.  These findings were even more pronounced in the female population. 
Gruber (1986) conducted a meta-analysis of twenty-seven different studies to look at the benefits of physical activity on the psychological development of both male and female children.  The subjects in the various studies ranged in age from elementary school through age 18. Gruber found evidence for a positive influence of exercise on self-esteem.  The children in these studies who were physically active displayed self-esteem scores close to one half of a standard deviation higher than those children who were inactive.  Several studies have also been done that have failed to find a significant difference between female athletes and nonathletes on self-esteem.  One study that found somewhat contradictory results to those cited above was done by Fisher (1996).  Fisher examined the positive and negative correlates of inner city youth.  The subjects in his study were 838 students (males and females) in gym classes of an urban New York City high school.  All of the students in the study reported some type of involvement in sports.  The results showed that 46% of the students had high self-esteem and 52% had moderate levels of self-esteem.  Fisher found high self-esteem to be significantly associated with improved academic performance, but was not associated with time spent on sports or participation in local or varsity teams.  Depression was not found to be associated with either academic performance or sports involvement.  There was also no relationship found between types or amounts of sports participation and either self-esteem or depression.  One possible confounding variable to this study is the fact that it was done in an inner city.  There may not be proper facilities for these students to play sports, and therefore they are not encouraged to do so.  Another study with similar results was carried out by Taylor (1995).  The participants in this study were 651 college students.  Two hundred thirty were varsity athletes and the other 421 were nonathletes.  Both males and females were included in the study.  This study found that athletic participants had higher levels of self-esteem than the non-participants in the senior, junior, and sophomore classes, but not in the freshman class.  However, none of these differences were statistically significant, although the data for the senior class was close to significance at the .05 level (P= .056). The data also showed that the athletes in the senior class had a significantly higher self-esteem than the freshman athletes, but there was no significant difference between the classes for nonathletes.  These findings suggest that although athletic participation may positively effect self-esteem, sports alone do not have a statistically significant effect (Taylor, 1995).  This study concludes that athletics may be one of many college activities that contribute to a positive effect on self-esteem and mental health, but is not the sole contributor.  Another hypothesis that this study raises is that sports may not influence self-esteem, but it is those students with the higher self-esteem who continue on to play sports at the college level.   Kumar, Thakur & Pathak (1985) also came to the conclusion that perhaps higher self-esteem increases confidence and therefore reinforces athletics. 

Gender Role

Uguccioni & Ballantyne (1980) conducted a study of 333 female college students.  They were broken into three groups (Group 1= 83 female varsity athletes; Group 2= 192 females who participated in competitive athletics on a limited basis; Group 3= 58 females with no competitive athletic participation).  The three groups were given the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Attitudes Toward Women Scale.  The findings were that the athletic women were most often classified as androgynous followed by masculine.  The second group was most often feminine and least likely masculine.  Group 3 scored the highest on the feminine sex role followed closely by the undifferentiated.  These findings suggest that only women who participate in athletics on a regular basis have an increase in masculine characteristics, while occasional participants and non-participants do not. 
Another study that found evidence in support of female athletes possessing more masculine qualities than nonathletes was done by Desertrain and Weiss (1988).  They looked at the relationships among gender role conflict, gender role orientation and female sport participation.  Their sample consisted of 106 female high school students (74 athletes and 32 nonathletes).  They found an equal number of masculine, androgynous, and undifferentiated athletes, and fewer in the feminine category.  In the nonathlete group, undifferentiated was the most common.  There were equal numbers of feminine and androgynous participants and very few were masculine (Desertrain, 1988).  These findings suggest that female athletes often score high on both masculinity and femininity (androgyny) or higher on masculinity alone.  Nonathletes often score low on masculinity and higher on measures of femininity.  The present research will examine the gender role orientation of athletes and nonathletes to see if athletes do indeed score higher on measures of androgyny and/or masculinity.

Self-Esteem and Gender Role

A number of studies have been done to examine the possible benefits of female participation in sports.  Novick (1999) found that three variables are important in determining the psychological differences between female athletes and nonathletes. A sample of 103 college females was assessed on the three variables of self-esteem, gender role orientation and body image.  It was found that females who participate in sports generally have higher self-esteem, more positive body images and perceive themselves as being more masculine than their non-athletic peers (Novick, 1999).  Novick's results indicated that adolescent females who are involved in sports have significantly higher self-esteem and body esteem, and perceive themselves as more masculine and less feminine than those who are not involved.  It was also found that the athletes who did perceive themselves as more masculine and less feminine had significantly higher self-esteem and body esteem as compared to the other female athletes who perceived themselves as more feminine.   Holland and Andre (1994) also had some important findings in this area.  They looked at social status as measured by how the subject’s wished to be remembered after high school, types of sports participants preferred for their own date/friend to participate in and self-esteem.  They divided the sports that the subjects participated in into "female" sports such as swimming, tennis and golf, and "male" sports such as football, baseball and basketball.  Those who did participate in sports were then broken up into categories for sex-appropriate sports and sex-inappropriate sports based on which they played.  Their sample consisted of 422 high school students and 319 college students.  They found differences between and among males and females on all 3 social status measures.  The self-esteem category had several significant findings.  Among males, it was found that participation in any type of sport was positively related to self-esteem.  An unexpected finding, although not statistically significant, was that males who were identified with sex-inappropriate sports reported higher self-esteem than athletes in sex-appropriate sports.  The results for females showed that participation in sex-appropriate sports was related to higher self-esteem when compared to sex-inappropriate sports or nonathletes.  Also, females who participated in more feminine sports were apparently rewarded with higher peer status and better perceptions about themselves.  According to these findings, females who participate in athletics not only view themselves more favorably, but others view them more favorably as well.  Delaney and Lee (1995) examined the idea that females who are involved in athletics may be experiencing some role conflict.  The participants in the study were 163 high school students.  Seventy-two were male and 91 were female.  Those students who reported three or more sessions of any athletic activity per week were considered to be highly active.  Forty-one males and 41 females fit this description.  The results showed that the highly active group for both males and females scored higher on self-esteem measures and higher on masculine-positive traits.  They also showed that this group scored higher on feminine-positive traits.  These findings support the idea that regular involvement in sports activity can benefit self-esteem and androgyny.  It also suggests that regular physical activity may enhance, rather than take away from, their perceptions of themselves as feminine.   However, the female and male athletes in the study scored high on both masculine and feminine traits, which suggests that androgyny may be a characteristic of athletes of both sexes.  The current research will look into the issue of sex roles and androgyny of female athletes and nonathletes even further to determine if there is a significant difference between the two. 
A study done by Miller and Levy (1996) also examined this gender role issue. They looked at gender role conflict, masculinity, femininity, physical appearance self-concept, athletic competence self-concept, body image self-concept and athletic participation of parents among a group of 76 female athletes and 69 nonathletes. Significant correlations were found among athletic status and levels of masculinity, femininity, physical appearance self-concept and parental participation in sports.  Higher masculinity and physical appearance self-concept were found in the athletes, while lower femininity was associated with the athletic group. Results indicated no significant differences in the gender role conflict of athletes and nonathletes.  This supports the idea that female athletes, although they may have more masculine characteristics, are secure in this gender role possibly because of their higher self-concept.   Covey and Feltz (1991) did a study that examined the relationship between adolescent girls’ past and present physical activity levels and their self-image and gender role identity.  The participants were 149 female high school students.  The girls were divided into four groups after doing a self-report questionnaire about their activity level.  These groups were physically active, physically inactive, increasing physical activity and decreasing physical activity.  They were then given a self-image questionnaire and a sex role inventory. 
The major findings were that the active group scored significantly higher on the self-image questionnaire than the inactive group.  However, the decreasing activity level group did not differ significantly from the active group on the self-image questionnaire.  The active group also reported significantly more of both masculine and feminine characteristics than the inactive group supporting the idea that female athletes are often androgynous. 
These results indicate that physical activity may be associated with higher scores on both masculinity and femininity scales, greater perception of physical abilities, and more positive psychological functioning (Covey & Feltz, 1991).  Therefore, this study suggests that physical activity may be inversely related to some negative aspects of mental health such as depression, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence.  The physically active females had feelings of psychological well-being and more positive self- concepts than the inactive group (Covey & Feltz, 1991).  The results of this study support the idea that involvement in athletic activity provides various benefits to females including a higher self-esteem.  The present research will look at this issue and attempt to determine the level of the difference in self-esteem between athletes and nonathletes.  A study on female athletes conducted by Hall (1986) found similar results to Covey & Feltz (1991) and Uguccioni & Ballantyne (1980).  His sample was a group of 75 female college athletes and 75 college female nonathletes.  Each of the subjects completed a scale of masculinity/femininity.  They were then divided into four groups: masculine, feminine, androgynous (which means high on both male and female characteristics) and undifferentiated (low on both male and female characteristics).  The main effect for the group athlete versus nonathlete was insignificant for self-esteem, but the scores for athletes were higher.  There also were not any significant differences in self-esteem scores between the athletes who engaged in the more feminine sports (swimming, tennis, golf) and those who participated in the more masculine sports (basketball, track).  However, this study did produce several significant findings.  The feminine sex-role typed nonathletes did have a significantly lower self-esteem than all of the other participants.  There were a large number (N=37) of androgynous individuals among the athlete group and few among the nonathlete group (N=16).  There was also a large number of feminine individuals among the nonathletes (N=30) and a small number among the athletes (N=12).  The results of this study show that there are a much greater proportion of androgynous female athletes than in a comparable group of nonathletes.  There is also evidence for a high positive correlation between self-esteem and the androgynous sex-role type.  The current research will 1) look for a relationship between androgyny and athletes; and 2) look at how androgyny affects self-esteem.  In 1981, Del Rey and Shepard did a study on 119 female college students, all of whom were also varsity athletes.  They were broken down into the same four categories as the previous study and had similar findings.  The androgynous participants had significantly higher self-esteem than the feminine and undifferentiated participants and the masculine participants had a significantly higher self-esteem than the undifferentiated group.  This supports the evidence that androgyny predicts the highest relationship to self-esteem in female athletes.  This study suggests that participants in competitive athletics would be primarily androgynous because participation in athletics requires sex role adaptability for females.  It discusses the fact that the traditional view of an athlete is not feminine and also says that stereotypically feminine characteristics have not been found to yield high self-esteem (Del Rey & Shepard, 1981).  Female athletes must come out from this stereotype and be more aggressive and sure of themselves.   The literature on this subject has found contradictory results as to whether athletics actually do have a significant impact on the self-concept of female adolescents.  Several studies have found significant differences, but some research has lead to the opposite conclusion.  One finding that was repeated in most of these studies is that female athletes are often androgynous, or high in both masculine and feminine characteristics.  The major gender role difference between athletes and nonathletes is that athletes score high on both feminine and masculine characteristics.  This suggests that it may be more masculine qualities that are related to a higher self-esteem because all females have feminine characteristics.  It is important that this subject be researched further to come to a decisive answer about the effects of athletics on female adolescents. Young girls who have an interest in sports are often referred to as "tomboys".  This gives the impression that it is not feminine to play sports and I feel that this should be changed.  If athletics do lead to a more positive self esteem, then parents and others should encourage young girls to play sports and be physically active to prevent problems such as lack of self-esteem and depression which are common in adolescent females today (Covey & Feltz, 1991). The present research will attempt look for any significant differences in the self-esteem and gender role orientation of female athletes and nonathletes. 


The hypothesis of this research is that the female athletes will have a higher self-esteem than the nonathletes and also that the female athletes will score higher on a measure of androgyny than the nonathletes.




The participants were 34 female students from a small liberal arts college in the northeast.  Their ages ranged from 18-22.  The mean age was 18.9.  The participants were divided into two groups: athletes and nonathletes.  Nineteen of the participants were athletes (defined as those who played a varsity sport for two or more seasons in high school).  Thirteen of the athletes were introductory psychology students who participated for course credit.  The other six participants in the athlete group were volunteers.  Fifteen of the participants were nonathletes.  Eight of the nonathletes were introductory psychology students who participated for course credit.  The other seven participants in the nonathlete group were volunteers.


The participants were measured on responses to three different questionnaires.  One questionnaire consisted of background questions to provide the researcher with personal information about each participant (i.e. age, grade, sports played etc.).  The nonathletes received a similar questionnaire that also inquired about any extracurricular activities they took part in .  The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), created by Sandra Bem (1974), was used to determine the participants perceived gender role.   It consists of 60 personality characteristics such as happy, jealous and ambitious, which are ranked on a Likert scale of 1 (never/almost never true) to 7 (always/almost always true).  Twenty of the characteristics are stereotypically masculine traits such as: "Independent, Assertive, and Competitive."  The characteristics scored as feminine include "Affectionate, Cheerful, and Gullible."  The other twenty traits are neutral and are not involved in the scoring process.  Answers create scores for the categories of masculine, feminine, androgynous (high on both masculine and feminine characteristics) and undifferentiated (low on both masculine and feminine characteristics).  Bem (1974) reported high internal consistency (Masculinity r=.86; Femininity r=.82).  A recent study reassessed the validity of the adjectives used on the BSRI and found that it is still a valid measurement of gender roles (Holt et al., 1998).  The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (1981) was also used.  It consists of 25 favorable or unfavorable items that the subjects define as like themselves or not like themselves.  These include "I'm popular with persons my own age" and "I can't be depended on."  Coopersmith reported the test to have reasonable construct, concurrent and predictive validity. Bedeian, Geagud and Zmud found coefficients for test-retest reliability (.80 for males; .82 for females) . 


The participants were seated at desks and were given an informed consent form, a set of subject instructions , and a packet consisting of the three questionnaires.  The informed consent form was collected before the participants began filling out the questionnaires.  The background information questionnaire was filled out first followed by the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI).  Upon the completion of the three questionnaires, the participants passed the packet into the experimenter.  They were then given a debriefing form which explained the experiment in more detail and thanked for their participation.



Various correlations and independent sample t-tests were run to look at any possible similarities within groups and/or differences between groups.  There were two significant findings within the correlations, but no significance was found on the  t-tests.  However, several of the statistics were in the predicted direction and supportive of the hypothesis.  All of the participants were also assigned a gender role based on their responses to the BSRI.  All results reported for the nonathlete group on the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory are based on 13 participants because two of the participants only filled out the first two questionnaires (background information and the BSRI) and neglected to fill out the SEI.


There were four independent sample t-tests performed on the dependent variables to look for any significant differences between the groups athlete and nonathlete on the dependent variables of self-esteem, masculinity, femininity and androgyny.  The first t-test looked for a difference between athlete and nonathlete on the masculinity score on the BSRI.  No significance was found, but the mean masculinity score was higher for the athlete group.  These results are in the predicted direction. The next test was run on the group athlete vs. nonathlete on the femininity score on the BSRI.  There was no significance discovered, but the mean score for femininity was also higher in the athlete group.  A t-test was next run on athlete vs. nonathlete and the androgyny score on the BSRI.  There was no significance found, but the mean androgyny score was higher in the athlete group as predicted.  The last independent samples t-test was run on the group’s athlete vs. nonathlete and their scores on the Coopersmith SEI.  The results are approaching significance (T(30)=1.73, p=.093) .  The mean score on the SEI was also much higher in the athlete group  (See Table 1).


The scores on the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory were correlated with three different scores from the Bem Sex Role Inventory: femininity, masculinity and androgyny for all of the participants and also for the athletes and nonathletes individually.  There were no significant correlations found between the SEI score and the participant’s femininity or androgyny scores for any group.  However, the results for the correlation between the SEI score and the masculinity score were significant at the .10 level (p=.084) for the overall group .   The results for the same correlation were significant for the nonathlete group at the .05 level (p=.054).  There was a positive correlation between masculinity and self-esteem for the overall group, the athlete group and the nonathlete group.  There was a negative correlation between femininity and self-esteem scores for all three groups.  There was a positive correlation between self-esteem and androgyny for the overall group and the nonathlete group, but a negative correlation between the two for the athletes (see Table 2). 

Descriptive Statistics

The participants in both groups (athlete and nonathlete) were assigned a gender role based on their responses to the Bem Sex Role Inventory.  The most common gender role among the athlete group was androgynous, followed by undifferentiated and masculine of which there were equal numbers of participants.  The least common gender role was feminine.  Among the nonathletes, the majority of participants were undifferentiated. There were equal numbers of androgynous and feminine participants and the least common gender role was masculine (See Table 


The purpose of this research project was to determine if participation in athletics has a significant effect on the self-esteem of females.  It was also looking to determine if there are differences in gender role orientation in female athletes and nonathletes.  Past research has suggested that exercise has beneficial emotional effects including a positive influence on self-esteem (Stephens, 1988; Gruber; 1986; Novick, 1991).  It has also been observed that female athletes have more masculine traits than nonathletes and as a result are more androgynous (Novick, 1991; Delaney & Lee, 1995; Uguccioni & Ballantyne, 1980).  The hypotheses of this study were that female athletes would have a higher self-esteem than nonathletes and would also score higher on a measure of androgyny.  The four independent samples t-tests that were performed on the dependent variables did not reveal any significant findings.  However, the mean self-esteem, femininity, masculinity, and androgyny scores were all higher for the athlete group.  The fact that the athletes’ mean scores on the measures of femininity, masculinity and androgyny are higher is supportive of the hypothesis.  The prediction was that athletes would score higher on a measure of androgyny than the nonathletes.  Androgyny means high scores on both masculine and feminine traits.   The fact that the athletes scores were higher on both masculinity and femininity would in turn lead to a higher androgyny score.  This finding is also consistent with past literature that has found female athletes to have a higher androgyny score than nonathletes (Desertrain & Weiss, 1988; Novick, 1999).  The current research also found that the most common gender role among the athletes was androgynous and the least common was feminine.  Among the nonathletes, the most common gender role was undifferentiated and the least common was masculine.  This supports the idea that athletics lead to an increase in masculine characteristics in females.  This finding is consistent with past research as well.  Uguccioni & Ballantyne (1980) found that female athletes are most often classified as androgynous.  Hall (1986) found that female athletes are most often classified as androgynous and nonathletes are most often classified as feminine on measures of gender role orientation. The hypotheses of this study stated that the female athletes would score higher on a measure of self-esteem and higher on a measure of androgyny than the nonathletes, both of which they did.  However, it seems to be the masculine characteristics that are related to self-esteem.  This increase in masculine characteristics is then added to the feminine characteristics that these females already possess (creating androgyny).  The increase in masculine traits is what leads to a higher self-esteem, and not the androgyny alone. The athletes may be more aggressive and competitive (male stereotyped traits) as well as have other male stereotyped traits due to their participation in sports.  The demands for playing athletics may encourage the development of these masculine traits in female athletes, but their feminine traits also continue to develop which leads to the higher androgyny score.  The nonathletes may not have developed these masculine characteristics because they have not had a use for them, but their feminine traits continue to develop which is why this is the most common gender role for the nonathlete group.  The present research found a large difference in the self-esteem of athletes and nonathletes.  Although the results for self-esteem between the groups athlete and nonathlete were not statistically significant, they were  approaching significance (p= .093).  This is supportive of past research. Covey & Feltz (1991) found that physically active females had a more positive self-concept that an inactive group.  Novick (1999) reported that adolescent females who are involved in athletics have a significantly higher self-esteem and body esteem than nonathletes.  Gruber (1986) and Stephens (1988) both found that level of physical activity is related to self-esteem as well. 
It is possible that females who play sports are in better shape than nonathletes and therefore they look and feel better about themselves.  Our society today places a great deal of importance on body shape and size.  This may have a lot to do with how people perceive themselves which in turn influences their self-esteem.
The correlations that were run among self-esteem and masculinity found near significance between the self-esteem score and the masculinity score for the overall group (p=.084)and were significant for the nonathlete group (p=.054).  This shows that there is a strong relationship between self-esteem and masculine-like character traits.  This may be because many of the traits that are stereotypically seen as feminine are things such as submissiveness and soft-spokenness (Bem, 1974).  These traits do not allow for a woman to speak her own mind or be her own person.  Stereotypically masculine traits are things such as independence and assertiveness (Bem, 1974).  These are the types of characteristics that are valued by our culture, whereas the feminine-like traits are not valued.  Therefore, possessing these characteristics may lead women to feel more secure about themselves and more capable of taking control of a situation.  This may result in a more positive self-esteem.  It has been proposed that the Bem Sex Role Inventory measures instrumentality and expressiveness as opposed to masculinity and femininity.  Instrumental traits are those that involve taking control and being in charge.  Expressive traits are those that involve emotions and connections with others (Helmreich, Spence & Holohan, 1979).  Research has shown that high instrumental trait scores are associated with decreased levels of depression and higher self-esteem for men and women.  There was no relationship found between expressive trait scores and self-esteem (Waelde, Silvem & Hodges, 1994). This research suggests that it is these instrumental traits that are related to self-esteem and not masculine characteristics.  A correlation does not allow us to infer causation.  It is possible that masculine traits lead to a higher self-esteem, but it is also possible that high self-esteem may lead to the development of masculine traits.  For the purposes of this study one possibility may be that the females who continue to play sports in high school and college are those who have a higher self-esteem to begin with. Perhaps these girls feel better about themselves and are more confident with their abilities and therefore continue on to play sports at higher more competitive levels.  One way to answer this question in future research would be to do a longitudinal study.  If females were given a measure of self-esteem before, during and after they participated in athletics for a number of years, this would help answer the question of whether self-esteem influences athletics or athletics influences self-esteem.  There are a few aspects of this study which could be changed in order to get more generalizeable results.  The participant count was relatively low (N=35) and the size of each group was also small(N=19 athletes; N=15 nonathletes) due to the scope of this study.  A larger sample size may lead to more significant results.  Since the means on each of the tests (self-esteem, masculinity and femininity) were all in the predicted direction, a larger participant count may find an even greater difference between the two groups. 
Another thing that could be adjusted would be to get a more diverse group of participants.  The participants in this study were all very similar on a number of variables including age, education and socioeconomic status.  It is possible that these variables may play a role in the variables of interest.  Middle and upper class girls may have a higher self-esteem at the outset due to their position in society.  They may have also been encouraged to play sports more than the lower socioeconomic class.  The increasing costs of equipment and uniforms necessary to play sports may make access to playing sports less available for the lower class.  In order for this study to be generalizeable to the population as a whole, a larger and more diverse sample would be necessary.  Future research may want to look at the ways in which athletics affects self-esteem in male athletes.  Since most males already have a lot of masculine traits, it would be interesting to note whether or not athletics would have an effect on their self-esteem.  Holland and Andre (1994) found that participation in any type of sport was positively related to self-esteem for males and females.  Perhaps, playing athletics brings out these masculine traits such as competitiveness in males as well and leads to an increase in their self-esteem also.  The knowledge gained from this research is both practical and beneficial to society today.  The study was done to determine if participation in athletics is related to a higher self-esteem in females. The findings suggest that athletics do indeed lead to a higher self-esteem.  Over the past few decades, female participation in sports has increased dramatically at the high school level (Baum, 1994).  Hopefully, the results of this study will cause this number to rise even more.  It may influence parents to encourage their daughters to become involved in sports from a young age.  This research may be helpful to town athletic leagues and suggest to them that they promote female participation in their programs.  It should also encourage more and more females to begin playing sports and continue playing sports as they grow up for both the emotional benefits and the overall health benefits.  Related research may lead schools to implement a requirement for girls to have to participate in some type of athletics for the positive effects they provide.  Research done in this area may also be useful to school counselors and psychologists as they may suggest participation in sports to females who have low self-esteem.  In conclusion, this research project as well as many other studies has discovered that participation in athletics for females results in an increase in masculine characteristics (creating androgyny) which may lead to a higher self-esteem.  Sports are no longer a primarily male domain.  Females continue to become increasingly involved in athletics.  There are psychological, emotional and health benefits that regular athletic activity can provide and for this reason all females should be encouraged to participate in athletics. 


Table 1.  Means for Athletes and Nonathletes on their Femininity, Masculinity and Androgyny Scores on the Bem Sex Role Inventory and Scores on the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory

                             Athlete                S.D.                    Nonathlete             S.D.

Femininity            59.11                 8.31                      57.46                   10.31
                              N= 19                                               N=15 

Masculinity          47.05                 6.93                       44.5                      9.63
                              N=19                                                N=15 

Androgyny           106.5                12.25                     101.2                    16.63
                              N=19                                                N=15

Self Esteem       75.79                20.46                      62.15                   23.81
                              N=19                                                N=13

Table 2.  Correlations of the Relationship Between Participants’ Scores on the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory and the Masculinity, Femininity and Androgyny Scores on the Bem Sex Role Inventory

                                                        All Participants (N=34)

                                    Femininity          Masculinity          Androgyny

Self Esteem Score:          -.048                   .310*                  .174

                                                            Athletes (N=19)

                                    Femininity         Masculinity          Androgyny
Self Esteem Score:          -.114                  .024                  -.037 

                                                       Nonathletes (N=15)

                                  Femininity          Masculinity           Androgyny 

Self Esteem Score          -.054                  .545**                  .291

Note: *p< .10

Table 3.  Percentages of Athletes and Nonathletes whose Gender Role Orientation is Androgynous, Masculine, Feminine and Undifferentiated Based on Scores on the Bem Sex Role Inventory

                                       Athlete                                 Nonathlete

Androgynous                    42%                                         21%

Masculine                         21%                                         15%

Feminine                          21%                                         21%

Undifferentiated              15%                                          44%

Baum, A.L. (1998).  Young females in the athletic arena. Journal of Sport Psychiatry, 7(4), 745-755.

Bedeian, A.G., Geagud, R.J., & Zmud, R.W. (1977).  Test-retest reliability and internal consistency of the 
short form of Coopersmith’s self-esteem inventory. Psychological Reports, 41, 1041-1042.

Bem, S.L. (1974).  Bem Sex-Role Inventory.  Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.

Biddle, S.  (1993).  Children, exercise, and mental health. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 24, 200-216.

Coopersmith, S. (1981).  Self-esteem inventories.  Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Covey, L. & Feltz, D.  Physical activity and adolescent female psychological development.  Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20(4), 463-474.

Del Rey, P. & Sheppard, S.  (1981).  Relationship of psychological androgyny in female athletes to self-esteem.  International Journal of Sports Psychology, 12, 165-175.

Delaney, W. & Lee C.  (1995).  Self-esteem and sex roles among male and female high school students: their 
relationship to physical activity.  Australian Psychologist, 30(2), 84-87.

Desertrain, G.S. & Weiss, M.R.  (1988).  Being female and athletic: A cause for conflict?  Sex Roles, 18(9/10), 

Fisher, M., Juszczak, L. & Friedman, S.  (1996).  Sports participation in an urban high school: academic and 
psychologic correlates.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 16(5), 329-334.

Gruber, J.J. (1986).  Physical activity and self-esteem development in children: a meta-analysis. In G. Alan 
Stull (Ed.), Effects of physical activity on children  (pp. 30-48).  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers. 

Hall, E.G., Durborow, B. & Progen, J.L.  (1986).  Self-esteem of female athletes and nonathletes relative to 
sex role type and sport type.  Sex Roles, 15(7/8), 379-390.

Helmreich, R.L., Spence, J.T., & Holohan, C.K. (1979).  Psychological androgyny and sex role flexibility: A 
test of two hypotheses.  Journal of Personality and  Social Psychology, 37(10), 1631-1644. 

Holland, A. & Andre, T.  (1994).  Athletic participation and the social status of adolescent males and females. Youth & Society, 25(3), 388-407.

Holt, C.L. (1998).  Assessing the current validity of the Bem Sex Role Inventory.  Sex Roles, 39(11/12), 929-941.

Kumar, A., Thakur, G.P., & Pathak, N.  (1985).  Self-esteem in individual athletes, team members, and nonathletes. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 61, 178.

Miller, J.L.& Levy, G.D.  (1996).  Gender role conflict, gender-typed characteristics, self-concepts, and sport socialization in female athletes and nonathletes.  Sex Roles, 35(1/2), 111-122.

Novick, E. R.  (1999).  A comparison of self-esteem, gender role orientation, and body image in adolescent female athletes and nonathletes.  unpublished doctoral dissertation. 

Stephens, T. (1988).  Physical activity and mental health in the United States and Canada: evidence from four population surveys.  Preventive Medicine, 17, 35-47.

Taylor, D.L.  (1995).  A comparison of college athletic participants and nonparticipants on self-esteem. 
Journal of College Student Development, 36(5), 445-451.

Uguccioni, S.M. & Ballantyne, R.H.  (1980).  Comparison of attitudes and sex roles for female athletic 
participants and nonparticipants.  International Journal of Sports Psychology, 11, 42-48. 

Waelde, L, Silvem, L., & Hodges, W. (1994).  Stressful life events: Moderators of the relationships of gender and 
gender roles to self-reported depression and suicidality among college students.  Sex Roles, 30, 1-22.


Visit these sites:

 NIKE Homepage
WNBA Homepage 

   Saint Anselm College Homepage

                     Please Email me with Questions or Comments @ 

Return to Top

Return to Psychology Department Homepage   Return to Senior Thesis Homepage