Ladies! Fire up your Keyboard: Gender Balance and Genealogy

statisticsIn a casual conversation at SLIG, Tom Jones, editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) challenged a group of us, and particularly the women, to write proof arguments for publication.  His observations were simple.  He asked us to to look at the gender make up of the SLIG class– 32 total members of which 2 were male and then he asked us to consider the gender of authors of the articles for the NGSQ…mostly men. [1]

Taking up Tom’s challenge, I decided to explore the gender balance in the authorship of peer-reviewed genealogical journal articles.  If the editor of the NGSQ said it was lopsided, I guessed he was right.  But, how lopsided was it?

My taking up this study should in no way imply that the editors of any genealogical journal are gender biased.  Knowing professionally Dr. Jones and Ms. Melinde Lutz Byrne, editors of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), I firmly believe the exact opposite–that both, through their teaching and lecturing, encourage all writers to submit and place no barriers to the first time submitter other than to do the work to the level of quality demanded by the journal and its editors.

For this study, I followed an approach that most of you will find familiar.

Research Question:  Between 2009 and 2013, does the gender balance of authors of the NGSQ reflect the gender balance of the available pool of authors?

Research Plan:

  1. Classify the gender balance of authors of the major articles of a peer-reviewed genealogy journal for the past five years
  2. Identify likely pools of authors
  3. Identify the gender balance of the likely pool of authors
  4. Analyze and correlate the information
  5. Draw a conclusion
  6. identify opportunities for further research

As with all studies, the population of the samples are representative only, a subset of the total.  Whether these samples are statistically significant I don’t know.  This is a blog; this study could certainly be expanded in many ways and that expansion would make the validity of the numbers better and enrich the article.  The purpose here is to give a “taste” of what might be found–a “pre-study”.  There are several ideas at the end of the article about how to increase validity and enrich the article.

GENDER BALANCE OF AUTHORS OF NGSQ ARTICLES

I selected the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) to review.  It was simple.  I am a member and I can access the NGSQ digitally.

I reviewed the last 5 years of NGSQ articles. [2]   I classified the gender of the authors of major articles only and did not classify authors of book reviews, editorials or other minor articles. The author’s gender was determined by their given names.

An improvement to this sample would be to increase the years surveyed and/or review additional peer reviewed genealogical journals such as The American Genealogist, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The Genealogist, to name a few.

For the past five years, by year, here is the breakdown by gender of the NGSQ:

2009:  articles by men: 7; articles by women: 12
37% by men; 63% by women

2010:  articles by men: 11; articles by women: 6
65% by men; 35% by women

2011:  articles by men: 7; articles by women: 14
33% by men; 67% by women

2012:  articles by men: 13; articles by women: 4
76% by men; 24% by women

2013:  articles by men: 12; articles by women: 7
63% by men; 37% by women

Over the entire five years:
2009-2013:  articles by men: 50; articles by women: 43
55% by men; 45% by women (average)

IDENTIFY LIKELY POOLS OF AUTHORS

The above numbers only make sense when compared to the available “pool of authors.”  By observation, there are many more women conducting genealogical research than men.  The identification of the proper “pool of authors” to use for comparison is critical.  Theoretically, all genealogists are potential writers for the NGSQ.  The problem with using the entire pool of genealogists is the difficulty of identification of a representative pool and then measuring the percentage by gender of that pool.   One could use conference attendees or society members or people who enter the Family History Library in Salt Lake City as the representative sample for the study.  Each would have its flaws as a sample.  For the purposes of this analysis, I had to heavily weigh “administrative ease”–the lists I could easily access and provided the names to assess for gender.  That methodology also has its flaws.

Here is how I approached the identification of the “pool.”  I investigated possible pools from which I could gather the information.  I identified four possible pools of authors that I could also access a member list:

  1. Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) [3]
  2. Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). [4]
  3. ProGen Study Group. [5]
  4. Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG). [6]

All organizations are national in scope.  APG has a much larger membership but includes a wider range of skill levels.  BCG has the narrowest range of skills, as the certification process is a rigorous standard.

IDENTIFY THE GENDER BALANCE OF THE LIKELY POOL OF AUTHORS

Each organization was reviewed and classified.  When given names were ambiguous, for example, Terry or N.D., the name was not counted.  A male name can also be the same as a common female name, for example Shirley.  In that case, the individual was counted with the gender of the common name.  I could also have made inadvertent errors. These would add statistical inaccuracy to the results.

  1. BCG: members: 161; Gender composition:              75% female, 25% male
  2. APG: members: 2150; Gender composition:           60% female; 40% male [7]
  3. ProGen: members: 238; Gender composition:       88% female; 12% male
  4. GSG: members: 230; Gender composition:            72% female; 18% male

Other measurements: Advanced Methodology SLIG class was 93% female; my Society’s Board is 83% female.

Arbitrarily and subject to criticism, I decided that in-between 60% and 88% was a reasonable number to use.  I chose 75% and 25% as the baseline for measurement as it was also consistent with my observations.   Membership numbers of NGS or FGS would refine this number and give it a stronger basis for selection.

ANALYSIS & CORRELATION THE INFORMATION

Summary of Findings:

%age of women in Author “pool” 2009: %age of women authors 2010 %age of women authors 2011: %age of women authors 2012: %age of women authors 2013: %age of women authors

75%

63%

35%

67%

24%

37%

%age below the “pool”

-12%

-40%

-8%

-51%

-15%

2011 was the most gender balanced year, with the least “gap” between the pool and the percentage of women authors.

2012 was the year most out of gender balance, with the greatest “gap” between the pool and the percentage of women authors.

Over all years, the average “gap” between the pool and the percentage of women authors is 30%.

CONCLUSION

For the five years of publication studied of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the gender balance of the authors does not represent the gender balance of the author pool and is significantly weighted (30%) towards male authors.

A better conclusion:  Ladies! Fire up those keyboards and get writing!

FURTHER RESEARCH

  • Develop a more statistically valid approach to the identification of the “pool of authors”
  • Analyze other peer reviewed genealogical journals
  • Analyze over a wider range of years
  • Analyze different decades.  These journals have a long history and a look at the gender balance in previous decades would be interesting.
  • Engage a focus group to discuss the issues raised

I am being encouraged by a pre-reader of this blog posting to consider this just a first step for this topic.  There is a belief that the topic should have a wider audience but that to have a wider audience demands a study embracing many of the elements in the “Further Research” section.

[1] Thomas W. Jones, conversation with Theresa Scott & Jill Morelli, Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Advanced Methodologies, 8 January 2014.
[2] Thomas W. Jones & Melinde Lutz Byrne, editors, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 2009-2013, vol 97-101.
[3] Board for Certification of Genealogists, online (http://www.bcgcertification.org : accessed 13 February 2014).
[4] Association of Professional Genealogists, online (http://www.apgen.org/index.html : accessed 13 February 2014).
[5] ProGen Study Group, online (http://progenstudy.org/ : accessed 14 February 2014)
[6] Genealogical Speakers Guild, online (http://www.genealogicalspeakersguild.org/ : accessed 15 February 2014).
[7] The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has approximately 2150 members listed on their website. I arrived at this total by estimating the number of members (40) on the screen of my iPad.  I then counted how many “screens” I had and multiplied.  The net result was an overall APG membership of approximately 2150.  I determined that 400 names would represent a  significant sample.  To randomize the selection, I assessed the gender balance of the members listed on the first ipad screen of 40 names; I then scrolled three screens, and did an assessment of that page, then scrolled three screens. I repeated this action until I had assessed ten screens.  I then added the numbers of men and women on each of the 10 pages (~400 names). Names that were ambiguous as to gender, e.g. Terry or N.D., were omitted from the count.

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5 comments on “Ladies! Fire up your Keyboard: Gender Balance and Genealogy

  1. a gray says:

    Rather than focus on gender solely, I wonder how this might be affected by topic. Are women focusing on different fields or paths of research than men?

    • jkmorelli says:

      Good question, Allen. I do not know. I could hypothesize that more men (as a percentage) feel the need to be recognized as “professionals,” hence the greater percentage of them as members of APG–a rather startlingly different percentage than the other groups. Contrary to APG, I was surprised ProGen was so low in male participation. Do women focus more on the volunteering aspect of genealogy and are over-represented in society membership or on their Boards? Many good questions which appear to me to not being addressed–at least in my circles. Have a good weekend!

  2. I would also be interested to see if the same imbalance can be seen internationally. In the Netherlands, most authors are male but so are most genealogists. I was shocked to find out that genealogy is a female-dominated hobby/profession in the US. My first career is in IT and my second in genealogy, both male-dominated professions in the Netherlands.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Yvette, I goofed and replied to my blog instead of to you! You therefore, might not have seen my reply.

      “Yvette, it would be interesting to see the international comparisons as well. Do you have any genealogy peer reviewed journals in the Netherlands? (I am an architect and can commiserate about the issue of being in a male dominated field.

  3. jkmorelli says:

    Yvette, as an architect starting her career in the early 70’s, I can commiserate with you about being in a male dominated field. It would be interesting to see the international comparisons as well.

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