What Goes into a Medal: Women's Inclusion and Success at the Olympic Games

Marcus Noland (PIIE) and Kevin Stahler (PIIE)
Working Paper
October 2014

In examining determinants of women's participation and performance in the Olympics, the authors find that female inclusion and success are not merely functions of size, wealth, and the advantages accruing to countries hosting the Olympic Games. Female success results from a more complex process involving the socioeconomic status of women and, more weakly, broad societal attitudes on gender issues. Female labor force participation and educational attainment are tightly correlated with both participation and outcomes, even controlling for per capita income. Female educational attainment is strongly correlated with both the breadth of participation across sporting events and success in those events. Host countries and socialist states also are associated with unusually high levels of participation and medaling by female athletes. Large-scale boycotts affect medal performance. Opening competition to professionals may have leveled the playing field for poorer countries. But the historical record for women's medal achievement is utterly distorted by the doping program in the former East Germany, which specifically targeted women.

Data disclosure: The data underlying this analysis are available for download as a zip file. It contains Excel (wp14-7.xlsx) and Stata (wp14-7.dta) versions of the dataset, and the Stata .do file (wp14-7.do), which contains model parameters that reproduce all statistical output.

This working paper has been updated and published in the Social Science Quarterly.