Isn't risky behavior supposed to be a guy thing?

While I don't like stereotypes and hate to sound like some kind of bigoted crackpot, occasionally I notice things which force me to ask basic "why" questions. And because this one simply doesn't make sense, I thought I would share it with the readers, who can hopefully fill me in on what I am missing.

I run every other day, I take a lot of long walks with the dogs, and I also drive around Ann Arbor. Now that there are a lot of runners outside, I have been noticing that the runners who run while wearing headphones (presumably because they are listening to music), are overwhelmingly female. I am not just talking about them being more likely than men to run while wearing headphones. There is a huge difference. The vast majority of women runners (more than 70%) wear headphones, and the vast majority of men (again, more than 70%) do not. It's really like a 10 to 1 headphone ratio, and there are a lot of men running, but they rarely wear headphones. Women almost always do. (At least, they do around here.)

My question, simply, is what could be behind this?

Whether it goes to a basic difference between the sexes, I do not know. Since running with headphones is a dangerous activity and one which constitutes risk-taking behavior (runners are less likely to hear cars), and since the stereotype is that men are more likely to engage in risky behavior than women, I would expect running with headphones to correlate with maleness.

I can't figure this out and it's driving me nuts because I want to understand, so at the risk of seeming like a bigot, I thought I'd run it past the readers.

Any ideas?

Hopefully, this is only an Ann Arbor thing and not a general trend. The difference does not seem grounded in women liking music more than men, because from what I've seen, both sexes are equally likely to wear headphones while walking.

Perhaps it was sexist of me to think that risky behavior was a guy thing.

The problem is, whether it's sexist or not, that stereotype seems to have considerable scientific confirmation.

Sexist or not, I'm stumped.

posted by Eric on 06.15.10 at 06:02 PM


The "risks" that males are more likely to take have to do with finding a mate. Challenge the alpha male for females, risking death if you lose. Attempt to acquire lots of wealth, probably with risk involved. From a female's perspective risk usually isn't necessary to acquire a mate.

Evolution has not yet had time to give us genes that say "wearing headphones near autos is dangerous."

TomSwift   ·  June 15, 2010 6:35 PM

Consider two types of runners. One type is out there because they want to run. To them, running is an end in of itself. They concentrate on their running, and headphones would be an unwanted distraction. The other type sees running as a means to an end. Perhaps they want to lose or maintain weight or get in shape. To them, running is work, a boring or unpleasant chore, and headphones provide a desired distraction.

SteveBrooklineMA   ·  June 15, 2010 6:52 PM

Your warning is falling on deaf ears; habitual headphones give away those who do not listen to anybody.

Brett   ·  June 15, 2010 6:58 PM

Sexism is never wrong! You just need a different angle.

Headphoned runners are pre-rejecting suitors—and creeps, I suppose, but women think of all rejectable men as creeps, and actual creeps are undeterred by disinterest.

Male runners are a-courtin', so they keep all their senses ready.

guy on internet   ·  June 15, 2010 7:00 PM

I would suggest it's because people don't understand risk.
America has made (part of) the world safe for puppies and other living things, so they just don't realize that they could be engaging in risky behavior, they've been sheltered from it their whole lives.

Women more than men, because men have to try to find dangerous things to do (often egged on by women) while women are protected by their parents.

You live in some craphole, you expect bad things, you live in some comfortable enclave of happy people, like oh, say Ann Arbor, you have a different view of the world.

I would bet not a lot of women wear headphones if they jog around Detroit.

Veeshir   ·  June 15, 2010 8:21 PM

The riskiness from headphones depends on the volume. At low volume, there's no effect on situational awareness.

rhhardin   ·  June 15, 2010 9:52 PM

Guy on the Internet beat me to it. Headphones are the modern "Do not talk to me" sign.

Phelps   ·  June 16, 2010 12:37 AM

Meh. However, you should write this up for the NYT as a bogus hand-wringing trend story.

hanmeng   ·  June 16, 2010 5:31 AM

I have noticed the same thing on the ski slopes. One of my female friends always skied listening to her IPod while skiing. To me that is almost suicidal behavior given the need to be aware of other skiers and snowboarders in your vicinity.

JY   ·  June 16, 2010 2:33 PM

Based on casual observation, women are also much more likely to be engaged in cell phone conversations while shopping at the supermarket....which probably does *not* count as risky behavior unless the checkout clerk gets mad at the rudeness and strangles her with a plastic bag....

david foster   ·  June 16, 2010 7:09 PM

Actually, even at low volume they decrease awareness for most; it's not just volume drowning out other sounds, it's the distraction: if you're paying attention to the music, you aren't paying attention to traffic/somebody following/whatever, at least not as much as you otherwise would.

I'm guessing a lot of women just have a blanket "Nothing can happen" attitude so they listen and run.

Firehand   ·  June 16, 2010 10:44 PM

You can't hear cars anymore, so why try? I mean, seriously. That gentle "whoosh" sounds like a bicycle. People on bicycles never warn you. You may as well go eyes only.

Maureen   ·  June 16, 2010 10:53 PM

Women are more likely to multi-task. This makes sense, evolutionarilly, because of the need to keep an eye out for the kids. Ear too. There may be other reasons.
I've finally after several years managed to make myself resume regular exercise. I used to run but gave it up when I got married because the city we lived in was not conducive to a woman running alone. Since then it's more a matter of "how can I justify this time?" I LIKE running -- and walking -- but I usually have a pile of work in the office or around the house. So, I've started combining research and exercise, by LISTENING to the books as I walk. Yep, I walk with headphones. Though if there is any reason to expect trouble -- unusually high traffice, or even foot traffic -- I free up one of the ears, so I can listen. Is it risky? Probably. On the other hand, not being able to convince myself to exercise will kill me in the long run. So, I take the risk when I must. (And for the record, I walk -- will run when I've lost a little more weight -- in a downtown area with broad sidewalks and stay on the sidewalk. My biggest danger is being run over by a bicyclist.)

Sarah   ·  June 18, 2010 1:48 PM

I vote with the other two above. Some of these women are filtering out unwanted advances and comments.

RT   ·  June 18, 2010 3:46 PM

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