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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Why do men dominate on 'Jeopardy!'?

My husband and I watch “Jeopardy!” together frequently. I’ve noticed that the strongest players are almost always men. 

Last week, the show hosted its Masters Tournament, and, consistent with my observation, four of the six “masters” are male. Interestingly, even the “winningest woman” on “Jeopardy!”, one of the masters, is Amy Schneider, who identifies as transgender. The sixth master contestant is a woman, Mattea Roach, of Canada. 

Working at Independent Women’s Voice, I’ve spent the better part of this spring working in state legislatures to promote and advance bills that preserve women as a legal category and keep women’s sports female-only. In the world of sports, women only have equal opportunity to compete fairly and safely if they are competing against other women only, because men have an athletic advantage.

Contestants of "Jeopardy" Jackson in a black sweater with rainbow detail around the sleeves, Maya in a red blouse, and Justin in a suit with his arms up in the air, learn Jackson is the winner

Some critics say that the way the “Jeopardy!” questions are written favors men, or at least focuses on men. (Sony Pictures Television Jeopardy Productions)

This got me thinking about “Jeopardy!” and other trivia competitions: do men have an advantage in these competitions as well (albeit less obvious to the eye of the observer)? I admit, I am loath to even explore the idea that men are “smarter” than women… especially since my main opponent for armchair “Jeopardy!” is… my husband. And there’s no way he’s smarter than me! 

CNN hosts can barely contain outrage after Jeopardy contestants whiffed on Ketanji Brown Jackson clue Video

So, biased question-writing aside, what else could be behind men’s dominance (compared to women) as contestants on the show?

Several academic studies have shown that men wager more aggressively on the Daily Double questions, particularly against other male contestants. When wagering is involved, men may have an advantage due to their higher tolerance for risk. This also has implications for other areas of life, like financial investment.


greatest of all time contestants on jeopardy

James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are featured in the “Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time” tournament. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)

As we’ve witnessed with the gender wage gap, the major driver isn’t sexism, but motherhood. One reason we see fewer women excelling on “Jeopardy!”, is, I believe, the same reason we see fewer women, on average, in many fields, from the halls of Congress to STEM jobs and more. 


What’s the “solution” then, for “Jeopardy!”? A female-only league (as in sports)? A mentorship program? Affirmative action for female contestants? No. We simply need to get comfortable with a lack of gender parity in some areas, not always reflexively labeling it as a “bad thing” and certainly not assuming that it suggests anything about the merits of one sex over another.

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