Five out of every six names in the media today are men’s, report researchers. In fact, the more the media mention someone, the higher the chances are that the person is a man.
The researchers combed through data from more than 2,000 US newspapers, magazines, and online news sources from 1983-2009 to arrive at this conclusion.
Despite significant social and economic advances in many fields, there remains a persistent underrepresentation of women in media coverage, something that the researchers call a “paper ceiling.”
The ‘Paper Ceiling’
“The persistent gap in media coverage is due to a combination of the media’s preoccupation with leaders at the expense of everyone else and the well-known ‘glass ceiling’ that continues to block off working women’s access to leadership positions,” says Eran Shor, an associate professor in the sociology department at McGill University and the lead author of the study in the American Sociological Review.
“The media focuses nearly exclusively on individuals at the top of occupational and social hierarchies, who are mostly men: CEOs, politicians, movie directors, and the like,” Shor says. “And because these famous individuals account for most of those named in the news, there continues to be a big gap between the mentions of men and women in the overall media coverage.”
Shor and his coauthors were surprised to discover that women’s presence was no greater in news produced by liberal American media organizations than in that produced by conservative ones. Nor did they find that women’s presence in the media increased in organizations where women were editors-in-chief or managing editors or where there were more women on the editorial boards.
In effect, what Shor and his coauthors document is a two-tier system when it comes to media mentions, with near parity in terms of male and female mentions in media for ‘obscure individuals’, people who make the news only once or twice, and a huge gulf between the mentions of men and women, when it comes to the names of the famous individuals which tend to dominate the news.
In the Sports Section
Nor was men’s domination in media coverage restricted to sports, the section where women’s names are least present. “The large majority of the people mentioned in news, business, and even entertainment articles are men,” Shor says. “The entertainment coverage may be especially surprising because people tend to believe that female celebrities are just as, if not more, famous and draw at least equal amounts of attention as their male counterparts.”
But, according to Shor, the great majority of directors, producers, comedians, and other prominent people in the entertainment industry are men, and most high-revenue movies still have more main male characters than female characters.
The researchers found a similar pattern of gender coverage inequality in the most current online newspaper data from the past five years, as well as in a random sample of Facebook data for 2014.
“Regardless of media, as long as men continue to monopolize the highest levels of occupational and social hierarchies, we are not likely to see a major shift in media coverage,” Shor says. “The resulting dominance of men as subjects of public and dinner-table conversation may reinforce and normalize in the minds of audiences the notion that power and newsworthiness are something men have and, apparently, deserve.”
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), American Sociological Association fund for the Advancement of the Discipline, the National Science Foundation, and Google Faculty Research Awards supported the work.