According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, men’s feet are typically larger than women’s. And shoe manufacturers design their products for each sex based on these guidelines.
Interestingly enough, this question is asked so frequently that it has its own Wikipedia page! And yes, there is definitely some variation between different cultures and races. A survey from Cornell University showed that the foot size differences between men and women are most dramatic in colder climates, such as Northern Europe and North America. In fact, researchers found they could accurately predict a person’s sex just by measuring their feet!
Foot size has long been used to determine sex. Egyptian mummies have been studied for this purpose, and the results show that males typically had larger feet than females. This has, of course, come into question due to the rise of custom footwear (heels, etc), but male shoes are still generally larger than female shoes because women’s shoe manufacturers use smaller shoe size guidelines.
There is usually a difference in scale between men’s and women’s shoes due to the different shapes of male and female feet. Men have a wider forefoot while women have a longer mid-forefoot which narrows at the toes. Foot size scales are based on a man’s foot length, because the width difference between men and women is so negligible.
Can I wear male sneakers if I am a woman and vice versa?
It depends on the brand, sneakers have a men’s and women’s version just as other shoes do. This is pretty straightforward since they are designed to fit the shape of the foot which differs between men and women. Some brands, like Nike, use a different “wear-tested” scale for female models so that their shoes will fit smaller feet. Most athletic brands design their sneakers with a variety of sizes.
However, you can wear the same type of sneakers if they are one size bigger or smaller, but not another brand’s sneakers. For example, it is possible to wear men’s size 7 in women’s models and visa versa. But if one wishes to purchase an Adidas sneaker instead of Nike then it will be necessary to buy a size larger or smaller.