A novel theory for relative female failure:

Women—especially high-achieving women—choke under pressure….

It turns out that by at least one measure—the number of unforced errors—men play equally well throughout the match. They make unforced errors on about 30 percent of the most important points, about 30 percent of the least important, and about 30 percent of all those in between. But women show a very different pattern: 34 percent unforced errors on the least important points, steadily rising to almost 40 percent on the most important. That’s almost surely too big a difference to be mere coincidence.

While this wouldn’t surprise me, as everyone’s ability to take risks tends to be significantly reduced as the pressure grows and women are normally more risk-averse from the start, the variable for which there doesn’t appear to be a control here is the age of the player.

Women’s tennis stars are usually a good decade younger than their male counterparts, and although the cluelessness of youth could just as easily exacerbate the difference as account for it, I’d be hesitant to put any weight on this sort of study without controlling for that age difference. One simply wouldn’t expect a 17-year old girl to show the same cold-blooded assassin’s mentality that Roger Federer or Adam Viniateri bring into high-pressure situations.

Of course, since choking is all about emotions, it wouldn’t come as a shock to learn that the sex more given to be controlled by their emotions would tend to choke more. I don’t know if it’s age or sex that might explain why Michelle Wie has kicked off her much-ballyhooed career with both hands wrapped firmly around on her throat, much less if this has any relevance to women in high profile positions in business or government – though that Louisiana governor weeping during Hurricane Katrina suddenly comes to mind – but it will be interesting to see if those noble and unbiased scientists permit themselves the discussion.