Study Looks at the Gender of Characters in 200 Years of Fiction

A professor at the University of Illinois is the lead author of an interesting study on the gender of authors and the gender of characters in works of fiction over a 200-year period. They found that the percentage of all fiction authors who were women dropped dramatically from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. During this period the number of prominent female characters in fiction also decreased.

Using an algorithm, researchers examined 104,000 works of fiction that had been digitized. They found that the percentage of all authors who were women dropped from about half in 1850 to about 25 percent in 1960. The researchers speculate that in the 1850s being a novelist was not a lucrative occupation so men typically avoided it. But once reading fiction became popular, more men became interested in becoming authors.

The researchers also found that in novels written by men, women typically accounted for one quarter to one third of all prominent characters. In novels written by women, the gender of characters was roughly equal.

Ted Underwood, a professor of information sciences and a professor of English at the University of Illinois and the lead author of the study notes that “men write stories where there are not that many women. Women represent the world as it is, with equal numbers of men and women, and men just don’t.”

The study, “The Transformation of Gender in English-Language Fiction,” was published on the website of the Journal of Cultural Analytics. It is available here. Co-authors are David Bamman, an assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley and Sabrina Lee, a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply