The Economist’s women and men

Down under in Melbourne, Solid Gold Creativity has embarked on an intriguing investigation into sex (or “gender”, as the Americans among you might prefer in this context) in journalism.

She found that only 27% of the articles in The Monthly, an Australian magazine, were written by women. Counting only “major” articles, defined as those longer than 3,000 words, 20% were written by women.

With a research assist from Phillip S Phogg, she then turned her attention to America, where she found that women wrote:

  • 27% of the articles in The Atlantic Monthly, and
  • 30% of the articles in the New Yorker.

(Both of those are five-issue averages.)

So, naturally, I offered to supply the relevant metrics for The Economist.

At first, I started counting the articles in our current issue by author’s sex. (You out there cannot know who the authors are, of course, because we don’t have bylines, but I have an internal list to aid me.) Then I realized that this doesn’t give a good picture, because we are too small. If one or two people are on holiday, that skews the numbers. Then a freelancer writes the odd piece; or somebody writes a big piece and a box to go with it; or several people collaborate on one story, and on and on.

So instead I counted the editorial staff, both total journalists (ie, correspondents + editors) and editors. (I defined as editors only colleagues who actually edit a section in the magazine or a part of the website, not those who have editor as part of their title on their business card.)

Here is what I found:

Of the 84 journalists (I tried to correct for those on sabbatical, those half-retired, and so forth) 19, or 23%, are women.

Perhaps more interesting: Of the 21 editors, 8 are women, or 38%.

In other words, those women who do work at The Economist have twice the chance to become an editor that men at The Economist have. Innaresting, ain’t it?

And if I had excluded the website from the numbers and counted only the magazine, the share of women would have gone up both among total journalists and editors.

That said, the percentages are still well below 50%.

Now, I quite like something that Solid Gold Creativity said in her comments:

… I’m not so interested in the “reasons” for this absence of female thinkers/writers. I can always think up a hundred reasons why something is one way or another. My interest is not “why”; my interest is what’s so…

In that spirit, let’s find out more…

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7 thoughts on “The Economist’s women and men

  1. I’ve perused the Economist’s just-published “World in 2010”. Of its 94 articles, 79 are by men, and 15 by women.

    Hence, men wrote 84% of them, and women 16%.

    • Well done, Phil.

      The World in 2010, I should add, is perhaps a distorted sample, as we ask world leaders to contribute (eg the president of Russia) and those “skew” male.

      But interesting nonetheless. We’re building a case for female underrepresentation here.

    • I have theories and may offer them, but not yet.

      But I will say that what makes this curious is that the readership skews much more male than the production is.

  2. Hi Andreas. Thanks for the link. Yeh, the topic is tres innaresting, isn’t it? And again, eerie, how the percentage of female journalists at The Economist (23%) is so close to the percentage for the other publications I’ve looked at.

    • Perhaps we’re converging on a special number of 23%. Once the sample is large enough, we might split it by (the women’s) age and other factors.

      Various hypotheses are germinating in my head, but I’ve taken your mantra to heart and am, so far, simply trying to find out ‘what is’, not why it is.

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