The most comprehensive analysis ever of the gender of New York Times writers

In this post I present the most comprehensive analysis ever reported of the gender of New York Times writers (I think), with a sample of almost 30,000 articles.

This subject has been in the news, with a good piece the other day by Liza Mundy — in the New York Times — who wrote on the media’s Woman Problem, prompted by the latest report from the Women’s Media Center. The WMC checked newspapers’ female byline representation from the last quarter of 2013, and found levels ranging from a low of 31% female at the NYT to a high of 46% at the Chicago Sun-Times. That’s a broad study that covers a lot of other media, and worth reading. But we can go deeper on the NYTimes. The WMC report, it appears (in full here), only focused on the A-section of each newspaper, with articles coded by topic according to unspecified criteria. Thanks to the awesome data collecting powers of my colleague Neal Caren, a sociology professor at UNC, we can do better.*

I started this project with a snap survey of the gender of writers on the front page of each section of result, 36% female from a sample of 164 writers. Then I followed the front page of the website for a month: result, 29% female from a sample of 421. For this, Neal gave me everything the NYTimes published online from October 23, 2013 to February 25, 2014 — a total of 29,880 items, including online-only and print items. After eliminating the 7,669 pieces that had no author listed (mostly wire stories), we tried to determine the gender of the the first author of each piece. To start, Neal gave me the gender for all first names that were more than 90% male or female in the Social Security name database in the years 1945-1970. That covered 97% of the total. For the remainder, I investigated the gender of all writers who had published 10 pieces or more during the period (attempting to find both images and gendered pronouns). That resolved all but 255 pieces, and left me with a sample of 21,440.** These are the results.

Women’s authorship

1. Women were the first author on 34% of the articles. This is a little higher than the WMC got with their A-section analysis, which is not surprising given the distribution of writers across sections.

2. Women wrote the majority of stories in five out of 21 major sections, from Fashion (52% women ), to Dining, Home, Travel, and Health (76% women). Those five sections account for 11% of the total.

3. Men wrote the majority of stories in the seven largest sections. Two sections were more than three-fourths male (Sports, 89%; and Opinion, 76%). U.S., World, and Business were between 66% and 73% male.

Here is the breakdown by section (click to enlarge):


Gender words

Since we have all this text, we can go a little beyond the section headers served up by the NYTimes‘ API. What are men and women writing about? Using the words in the headlines, I compiled a list of those headline words with the biggest gender difference in rates of appearance. That is, I calculated the frequency of occurrence of each headline word, as a fraction of all headline words in female-authored versus male-authored stories.

For example, “Children” occurred 36 times in women’s headlines, and 24 times in men’s headlines. Since men used more than twice as many headline words as women, this produced a very big gender spread in favor of women for the word “Children.”  On the other hand, women’s headlines had 10 instances of “Iran,” versus 85 for men. Repeating this comparison zillions of times, I generated these lists:

NYTimes headline words used disproportionately in stories by

Scene US
Israel Deal
London Business
Hotel Iran
Her Game
Beauty Knicks
Children Court
Home NFL
Women Billion
Holiday Nets
Food Music
Sales Case
Wedding Test
Museum His
Cover Games
Quiz Bitcoin
Work Jets
Christie Chief
German Firm
Menu Nuclear
Commercial Talks
Fall Egypt
Shoe Bowl
Israeli Broadway
Family Oil
Restaurant Shows
Variety Super
Cancer Football
Artists Hits
Shopping UN
Breakfast Face
Loans Russia
Google Ukraine
Living Yankees
Party Milan
Vows Mets
Clothes Kerry
Life Gas
Child Investors
Credit Plans
Health Calls
Chinese Fans
India Model
France Fed
Park Protesters
Doctors Team
Hunting Texas
Christmas Play

Here is the same table arranged as a word cloud, with pink for women and blue for men (sue me), and the more disproportionate words larger (click to enlarge):


What does it mean?

It’s just one newspaper but it matters a lot. According to Alexa, is the 34th most popular website in the U.S., and the 119th most popular in the world — and the most popular website of a printed newspaper in the U.S. In the JSTOR database of academic scholarship, “New York Times” appeared almost four-times more frequently than the next most-commonly mentioned newspaper, the Washington Post.

Research (including this paper I wrote with Matt Huffman and Jessica Pearlman) shows that women in charge, on average, produce better outcomes for women below them in the organizational hierarchy. Jill Abramson, the NYTimes‘ executive editor, is the 19th most powerful woman in the world, behind only Sheryl Sandberg and Oprah Winfrey among media executives on that list. She is aware of this issue, and proudly told the Women’s Media Center that she had reached the “significant milestone” of having a half-female news masthead (which is significant). So why are women underrepresented in such prominent sections? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’m really wondering how this happens. The NYTimes doesn’t even do as well as the national average: 41% of the 55,000 “News Analysts, Reporters and Correspondents” working full-time, year-round in 2012 were women.

Organizational research finds that large companies are less likely to discriminate against women, and we suspect three main reasons: greater visibility to the public, which may complain about bias; greater visibility to the government, which may enforce anti-discrimination laws; and greater use of formal personnel procedures, which limits managerial discretion and is supposed to weaken old-boy networks. Among writers, however, an informal, back-channel norm still apparently prevails — at least according to a recent essay by Ann Friedman. Maybe NYTimes‘ big-company, formalized practices apply more to departments other than those that select and hire writers.

Finally, I am sorry I’m not doing this for race/ethnicity. It’s just a much different project to do that, because the names don’t tell you the identities as well. If someone wants to figure out the race/ethnicity of NYTimes authors (such as someone, say, inside their HR department) and send it to me, I would love to analyze it.

* Neal has a series of tutorials on analyzing text as data, and he has posted some slides on how to do this with the NYT’s application programming interface (API).

** A couple other notes. This is a count of stories by the gender of their authors, not a count of authors. If men or women write more stories per person then this will differ from the gender composition of authors. So it’s not a workplace study but a content study. It asks: When you see something in the NYTimes, what is the chance it was written by a woman versus a man? I combined Sunday Review (which was small) with Opinion, since they have the same editor and are the same on Sundays. I combined Style (which was small) into Fashion, since they’re “Fashion and Style” in the paper. I  combined T Mag (which was small) into T:Style, since they seem to be the same thing. Also, I coded Reed Abelson‘s articles as female because I know she’s a woman even though “Reed” is male more than 90% of the time.

46 thoughts on “The most comprehensive analysis ever of the gender of New York Times writers

  1. well… this is the case not only in your country but in most of the countries actually. women are trying to come up with their craving ideas to explore their talent. its a really good sign of women empowerment !


  2. The NYtimes is the worst, I have noticed their weird apologetic stance on women’s issues for a while, and commented on it elsewhere. Good to have some facts to back up my anecdotal observations.


  3. Very interesting study. I love the idea of quantitative analysis of text, for study and writing. i have bookmarked the tutorials from your associate. Took several Data Analysis courses, but was limited to the Enterprise system, with Microsoft BI and SQL Server. Planning on learning more. Thanks for sharing your work with us. As a woman in business, I can appreciate that we only have an almost balanced foot-hold in some areas of some industries.


  4. You should also look at women as sources. The lack of women as e.g. expert sources is a big problem (se I see it) in Danish newsmedia.


  5. A very thought provoking study. What is most telling and disturbing is that men are vastly overrepresented in the opinion section. Words associated to female writers were credit and loans, as opposed to deal and investors for the men. An interesting display is the current financial inequality along the gender lines. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Reblogging this on Southern Mom. Always interesting to see gender studies in new and unexpected ways.


  7. The thing is, women write about the things they’re interested in. Men do the same. Once women start getting interested in sports and technology we’ll see this shift.
    Corporations aren’t interested in discrimination.
    They’re interested in making good products.
    And honestly, I wouldn’t be good at writing about sports or technology because I don’t care.
    Perhaps, some day, economy.


    1. I mean, if you go to a party and talk with men and women the topics they talk about will mirror their interests. My female friends don’t discuss technology or programming or stuff like that.
      The question here is how are we going to get women to be interested in those fields?
      By giving them the same expectations, the same opportunities. Let them go build weird things with LEGO and let them do weird puzzle games on the computer. Let them fix their own bicycle and have them mow the lawn.
      Don’t limit them to pink barbies.
      Though they should certainly be allowed to play with those, too.


      1. are you serious? if so, your comment that your …. female friends don’t discuss technology or programming … ” therefore the problem being, ”how are we going to get women to be interested in those fields,” is totally sexist! How are you going to ”get” women to be interested suggests to me some kind of nefarious control of the way women should think …, like, they should think more like men. later you stereotype women by saying they have limited interests namely, ”pink barbies.” it seems to me that your attitude is at the root of the problem of disproportionality. i.e., men in management positions will stifle women’s perceptions because they are not the same as a typical man’s perceptions. these kinds of statements are not fair to women OR men since all men aren’t sexists with the same perceptions as you suggest nor is it fair to suggest that most women not interested in weird puzzle games. if you are serious then it seems to me that you are suggesting further entrenchment into a patriarchal hierarchy which is the root of the problem in the first place.


        1. Yeah, okay, so maybe that was not the best written comment in the world.
          What I mean is that I see boys/men’s interests being cultivated in many different directions. Boys are offered more options than girls as far as I see. How come boys learn to take care of their bikes while girls don’t? I’ve asked my male friends this many times and they just shrug and say their dad taught them. None of my female friends have been taught this. And this is just an example.
          I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with barbies or pink or dresses. If I could I would wear dresses every day. The problem lies in not giving more opportunities and choices – and studies do show that our options ARE limited. Parents have different ideas of what a girl wants to play with and what a boy wants to play with and their decisions will affect the children.
          I don’t think cars are better than barbies and I don’t think men’s way of thinking suits being a boss better than women’s way of thinking. (Putting it very generally here, as we’re all people and not held back by just one label.)
          I just think we should all have the option to play with dinosaurs or lego firemen if that’s what we want.


          1. so i think it all goes back to parents and what they teach in very subtle ways but i think the generation of women we base these conclusions on are the product of an earlier generation (a 30 year old woman would have been born and raised in 1994 … were parental expectations that much different in ’94? i don’t know. maybe they were still entrenched in that outmoded way of thinking. i think that women’s style of management .. seeking consensus, open communication … is more suited for todays business climate. i think it’s the next step in the evolution of the way business is done. forces have been at work for many years now to dispel the notion that girls are not good at math when in actuality they are just as good as boys. the patriarchal hierarchy is everywhere including the churches … men on the whole are afraid of women usurping their roles … look at the catholic church … . these thoughts are so inbred. it will take time but since i was privy to the birth of women’s liberation back in the ’60s i can see a steady growth in the way women think. just think, if women were to liberate themselves from the presidposed concepts that have existed for thousands of years coupled with their innate styles of perceiving the world and doing things …. wow! men, it seems to me … especially those who govern at the federal level … spend all their time trying to prove to other men who has the biggest cock. what a waste. ks i think that women are being taught to fix their bikes as we speak! especially since the roles of men have changed with more and more men being stay at home dads. hey .. thanks for taking the time and effort to reply … ks


          2. Interesting points. What you say about men being afraid of women “usurping” them reminds me of Simone Beauvoir (I think that’s how it’s spelled) who wrote about “what is woman” and pointed out that throughout times man has been defined as the subject and woman as “the other”.
            Anyway, just thought of it.

            I agree, changes have been radical. I think that at the point we’re at now we need little insentive to see it all the way through. We don’t need quotas and “special places” at boards. (In many countries they’re making women’s quotas to ensure that women get hired, which I personally think is one of the most discriminating things that has ever happened to me).
            In the western world the snowball is rolling and growing bigger on its own – women are liberating themselves a bit more every generation.
            The last bastions are obviously in other countries. It’s fascinating to see India, for instance, and how it’s changing.


  8. I guess the front page is based on what people want to read. Sports probably get to the headlines more then topics related to health or family. Is there any research on who actually reads the articles ? To men buy papers more than women?


  9. So what is the demographic when it comes to the people who BUY the damn newspaper?

    I would imagine more men buy the NYT than women. If that’s the case then a 50/ 50 split of male/female writers would not be ‘equality’ (whatever ‘equality’ is supposed to mean in this context).

    Also the insinuation (correct me if I’m wrong) is that men typically write for men and are generally biased in the favour of men’s interests… whereas women typically write for women and are generally biased in the favour of women’s interests.

    But even if that is true, it is always possible (if not certain!) that the women who choose – repeat CHOOSE – to buy the NYT do so because they value the opinions of the writers (and editors) who write for the paper – including all those men with their all their male-influenced biases, slants, attitudes and interests.

    It is (shock horror!) possible for women to appreciate and value the opinions of men, and for men to value the opinions of women. The sexes are supposed to be *complimentary* …… and they were before feminism started telling everyone we were all at war with each other.

    If men CHOOSE to buy and read Cosmo or Heat we would probably assume they know what they are doing. We would assume they value the opinions of the various writers and editors of those magazines. Otherwise they would not CHOOSE to buy those magazines, would they?

    And we would understand that if Cosmo or Heat started filling their magazines full of male writers doing features on motorbikes or football that that would annoy the hell out of the men (and the women) who currently buy those magazines.

    In society we give men agency to choose things for themselves. We do not try to help to ‘fix’ the world around men based on what WE imagine they want or need. We let men choose for themselves.

    But the vibe I’m getting from this post is that we can’t expect women to have the agency or the intelligence to actually CHOOSE what to buy and read based on their own preferences… so in the absence of female agency we must do meticulous calculations about words like ‘shoe’ and ‘economy’ to find out if the fragile, helpless, imbecilic women who buy the NYT are actually being force fed too many ‘men’s words’ written by men and not enough ‘women’s words’ written by women.

    Why do we always feel the need to ‘fix’ the world around women? (The answer: because feminism tells us women are too stupid to make informed choices on their own)

    It’s all moot anyway because ‘newspapers’ are dying media anyway.


    1. I too was reading the article with interest until I ran into an idea which sent me into a furry of social injustice which disallowed me to continue for a moment more! Women write? Harumph I say! You hear me sir writer of this article! Haaaarumph!

      In honesty though I was going to make a similar comment to yours but you did so better. While no doubt even in industrialized places sexism exists, professionally I see all the time in areas where men dominate more men apply, where women dominate, well the opposite. And so when we look at the end result instead of the ingredients worked with the cake can seem a lopsided mess with too few eggs and too much flower… that was a bad joke.

      Assuring equal opportunity is important, but not every instance where the work force is not exactly divided by gender, race, religion and hair color is sexism amiss. Sometimes it’s just a matter of interests.


  10. Initially the title “most comprehensive analysis” sounded too bombastic & a claim for bragger rights. But when I read the entire article, the care you have taken in analysing such vast amount of data is apparent. While writing an academic essay on women human rights, I wondered about the psychological angle of why women allow themselves to be dominated at all; but couldn’t find a proper answer. May be writings like yours, throw more light on this.
    Congratulations on a fine piece of writing.


  11. I’m wondering if and how the RATIO of women writers to men writers has been figured into the equation to determine a fair comparison. i.e. the only way to make a fair comparison would be to compare the work of 100 men vs 100 women based on a random sample of authors. naturally, if there are considerably more men than women writers there will be significantly more articles published by men which would lead to totally erroneous conclusions. kind of like using the number of crimes committed as an index of criminality compared to crimes committed per capita.


  12. Pingback: Think sexism in tech is bad? It’s time for journalism to face its own diversity issues | PandoDaily

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