Wives watch sports for husband’s sake, study reports

Face it, men, your wife doesn’t really love NASCAR.

A study published recently on the sports-viewing habits of married women found that wives were more likely to watch televised sports as a means of maintaining their relationship with their husbands than for their own enjoyment.

When married women did tune in to a sporting event for their own pleasure, it was most likely by accident and lasted for only a short time, researchers said.

The study, titled “Women (Not) Watching Women: Leisure Time, Television and Implications for Televised Coverage of Women’s Sports,” appeared Friday in the journal Communication, Culture and Critique and included 19 women in heterosexual marriages. Among other findings, the women expressed a preference for short, condensed sporting events, such as those in the Olympics, and said they gravitated toward traditionally “feminine” sports such as gymnastics and figure skating.

The women were all interviewed roughly 40 years after the passage of Title IX, the federal legislation that banned discrimination on the basis of gender in public schools and offered women equal opportunities in sports.

While women’s participation in athletics has exploded nationally since then, their interest in professional sports hasn’t grown as much as promoters and producers had expected. The study, the authors wrote, tried to explore why this was the case.

Household chores and child-rearing, divided along gender lines, were cited as a primary reason. Most of the women said they simply lacked the time to follow sports for an extended period.

“Much of what they consumed on their own happened by chance when they had a free moment to sit down in front of the television, and their viewing habits were discontinuous, largely because of household responsibilities that required them to multitask,” wrote the study authors, Erin Whiteside of the University of Tennessee and Marie Hardin of Penn State University.

“What we found was that sports fandom for these women was not associated with leisure as much as it was with the maintenance of relationships, notably with the key men in their lives.” In these instances, women said they were most likely to watch football games and NASCAR races.

Study participants were between 26 and 43 years old. Of the 19 women, 15 had children at home. The sampling included one black and one Latina. The rest were white.

Although the sampling included some former athletes and those who were interested in recreational sports, nearly all of the women expressed little interest in watching, listening to or reading about women’s sports. “Rather, they expressed a passing interest in sports such as gymnastics, tennis, cheerleading and figure skating,” the report said. “Even then, however, most did not say they sought information about these sports.”