The difference may be subtle, but the data speaks for itself – in most parkrun countries there are more male finishers at parkrun 5k events than female. However, if we dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the opposite is true of those registering for parkrun.
Dr. Charlotte Jackson, Data Strategy Consultant and parkrun Insight Ambassador, takes an in depth look at female participation at parkrun.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022, this blog shares some of the unique insights we have generated about the female journey from registration to regular participation as a walker or runner. Much of this relates to research undertaken pre-Covid, but we are also beginning to explore the extent to which the pandemic has impacted female walking, running and volunteering at parkrun.
Insights like this help shape our efforts to improve inclusivity, not just for women and girls, but for everyone – so that we can unlock the vast health and wellbeing benefits for all.
Let’s start with the facts. In 2019, 1.12 million people in the UK, Ireland, Australia and South Africa registered for parkrun, over 600,000 of whom were female. The female majority in registrants is evident across all four major territories, ranging from 53% females in the UK, to 57% in Ireland and South Africa. This far outweighs the population ratio which in all four territories is around 51% female. In isolation, this statistic implies that parkrun is more appealing to females. But perhaps the biggest hurdle is yet to come. You’ve registered for parkrun, now you’ve got to participate.
On a given Saturday in 2019 in the UK, the average proportion of female walkers and runners was 44%, a 9% drop from the female registrants. But what does this stark difference between the female share at registration and participation actually tell us?
Almost a third of registrants for parkrun never take part in a 5k event. When we look closer at this pool who are yet to participate, we see that more of them are female. The overall result is that the 53% female majority at registration drops to 51% of all who go on to actually complete a 5k parkrun. So what started as an event more appealing to female registrants, now has the reverse effect upon completing the registration form.
Why could this be happening?
The parkrun Barriers Survey (undertaken in 2017 and 2019) provides some fantastic insight into the reasons why people register but don’t participate. The 20 barriers range from not having time, being physically ill or injured, not feeling fit enough and feeling unsure about walking or running in public. These can be grouped into physical barriers, psychological barriers and time barriers, and stark gender differences exist.
We found that twice as many females (40% of respondents) than males (20% of respondents) experienced psychological barriers which prevented them from walking or running in a parkrun event.
By comparison, physical and time barriers seemed to affect both men and women equally. The survey sample clearly implied that women were far more likely to feel unsure about walking or running in public, feel nervous about what to do when they get to parkrun or not want to attend alone, and it is these challenges which seem to be creating a gender gap in the conversion rate from registration to participation.
But the increased reluctance of females to participate after registration only reduces the female share slightly, and does not account for the significant difference that we see every Saturday. After the first participation, males are also more likely to return for a second. However, after the second parkrun the dropout rates start to converge and by the fifth parkrun males and females are equally likely to return to walk or run.
At this point, it no longer matters whether someone will return to walk or run the 5k course, but how often. We found that in all parkrun countries males attend parkrun more often than females, with a ratio of 56:44; hence flipping the gender majority and widening the gap.
In the UK, about 2% of finishers are walkers, with the figure being 4% in Ireland, and 10% in Australia. However in South Africa it is far more common to walk, with almost a third of all parkrunners on a Saturday walking the course. Interestingly, in all four of the main territories, the female share of walkers at parkrun is considerably higher than those who run (up to 74%). This influences the overall female share and provides a fourth lesson: where the proportion of walkers is high, so is the proportion of females.
This research was undertaken pre-Covid-19 but is arguably even more relevant today.
Since events restarted, we are seeing a reduction in the share of female registrants and walk/run participants of about 3% globally.
This reflects data from outside of parkrun which indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain groups, with females seeing greater reductions in levels of physical activity than males.
In terms of volunteering specifically, globally more women than men volunteer at parkrun, carrying out 53% of volunteering in 2021. However, when we drill down into the type of roles, we see that more men fill the Event and Run Director roles than women, with 48% of Run Directors across the world of parkrun in 2021 being female. We are planning a piece of research to help us understand the motivations behind volunteering at parkrun, and the reasons why people may not choose to do so. This will greatly assist our efforts to involve and retain more, and a greater diversity of people, in volunteering.
In the wake of the pandemic, never has it been more important to promote participation by all, including women and girls. Fortunately, the lessons learned through our research can help support our efforts.
Insight can’t provide all the answers, but it is a really valuable way for parkrun to understand who is registering and participating, and how often, as well as the barriers that they might face in doing so.
If you’re interested in learning more about our work, we’d encourage you to join the forthcoming parkrun Research Board Seminar on Wednesday 23 February, which will summarise the findings of the barriers research and explain how we use the insights to improve what we do.
With IWD2022 fast approaching, and teams across the parkrun world planning lots of exciting activities, this blog is a reminder of why it is so important to focus efforts on encouraging more women and girls to take part.
We really look forward to welcoming as many people as possible to IWDparkrun on Saturday 5 March, in a fantastic global celebration of participation, community and inclusivity.
Dr. Charlotte Jackson
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