Is the Art Market Biased Against Works Created by Women?

A study led by researchers at the Yale School of Management notes that a large percentage of artworks sold at auction or displayed at major museums were created by men. The gender gap could stem from multiple sources. Buyers, curators, or museum managers might be biased against women’s work. Institutional barriers also could prevent or discourage female artists from pursuing their careers and entering the market.

The Yale researchers sought to understand the gender gap by examining data on about 4,000 graduates of the Yale School of Art over more than a century. They divided the data into two major time periods: before 1983, when male students outnumbered female students, and after 1983 when the gender ratio roughly equalized.

The team assembled data on 4,433 graduates from 1891 to 2014. Then they obtained auction records for about 10,000 works by 524 of those artists, sold around the world from 1922 to 2016.

The researchers found that before 1983, the fraction of artists who sold work at auction was lower among women than men. Some 14 percent of the men sold at least one work, while only 7 percent of women did so. But women graduates who did sell their work ranked higher on average auction prices than their male peers. The authors concluded that “the market is fair, but the institutions were not.” In other words, because women faced more institutional obstacles, they may have had to produce higher-quality work to reach the art market. But once they did, their talent appeared to be rewarded with more money.

The gender difference in auction access and price rankings wasn’t significant after 1983, suggesting that some barriers had weakened. But even after classes reached gender parity, women’s names were much less likely to be mentioned in books, likely translating to lower awareness of their work. Before 1983, men were mentioned 3 to 14 times more often than women in books. After 1983, male artists’ citations were still two to three times more frequent.

The authors caution that the results might be specific to Yale graduates. Another study that examined 1.9 million auction records worldwide from 1970 to 2016, reported that the average price for female artists’ paintings was 42 percent lower than for male artists.

The full study, “Art and Gender: Market Bias or Selection Bias?” was published in the Journal of Cultural Economics. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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