Study Finds a Significant Increase of Female Pronouns in Books Written Over the Past 40 Years

The progress of women has been measured by earnings, employment in key posts, women in elected office, and a wide variety of other measures. A new study by a research team led by Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, finds that the use of female pronouns in books has increased dramatically.

The research team used the Google Books database to examine the use of pronouns in 1.2 million books that were published in the United States from 1900 to 2008. The research found that between 1900 and 1945, male pronouns out numbered female pronouns by 3.5 to 1. The ratio of male pronouns to female pronouns actually increased in the 1950s and 1960s to about 4.5 to 1.

But beginning in about 1968, the use of female pronouns began to increase. Now the number of male pronouns is about twice the number of female pronouns. The increase means that their has been an increase in novels, biographies, and other books in which women are the central characters.

Dr. Twenge holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago. She earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan.

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  1. Monish says:

    You make a good case. I’ve been rewriting this comment for the past hour because I’m not satisfied with my response. Man is a pet peeve-word of mine. It only has its current place pigeonholed to the male gender because a millennium ago English speakers forgot to say the old word for an adult male and man replaced it. It used to be the English equivalent of Latin-derived human. I’m a rebel. I like to dredge up the old contexts for old words and use them. I think it’s healthy for the language. Not that I really think I can justify using the word man for humanity in an academic setting these days. I’m just not going to be quiet about it. And Stan, unless I’m mistaken, no woman has set foot on the moon. So especially in the limited modern sense of the word, it’s literally true that man landed on the moon. I lament that English doesn’t have a gender-neutral pronoun set, and I also see the use in trying to push the language in directions that allow for clearer communication. However, gender inclusivity remains clunky in my experience. Maybe people I know haven’t sorted out the tricks: firefighter instead of fireman / fireperson ; police officer , not policeman; the like. Then there’s the confusion over waiter and actor , both gender-neutral words which have been given the same treatment as man, leading to waitresses and actresses. I’ve got enough complaints, qualms, and quaint anecdotes for my own blog post about gender in the English language, but I won’t squander any more of your time, consider this comment is already ten days late. Arguing for accuracy is the way to get the hardheaded folks like me coming around. Not saying I have, but again, you make a good case.

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