Gender Gap

05.31.12

Men Rule Media Coverage of Women’s News

In media reports on women’s issues—abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood—men are quoted around five times more than women, a new study shows. By Abigail Pesta.

In media coverage of women’s issues such as abortion, birth control, and Planned Parenthood, men are doing most of the talking, a new study has found. Men are quoted around five times more than women in these stories, according to the research group The 4th Estate, which has been studying election coverage for the past six months.  

Among 35 major national publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, men had 81 percent of the quotes in stories about abortion, the research group said Thursday, while women had 12 percent and organizations had 7 percent.  

In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes, with women getting 19 percent and organizations getting 6 percent. Stories about Planned Parenthood had a similar ratio, with men getting 67 percent, women getting 26 percent, and organizations getting 7 percent.  

Women fared a bit better in stories about women’s rights, getting 31 percent of the quotes compared with 52 percent for men and 17 percent for organizations. 

Men didn’t just dominate stories on women’s issues, the study found, but stories on all election topics, including the economy and foreign policy. Among individual publications, men had 65 percent of quotes on general election topics in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune. Men had 67 percent of quotes in The Washington Post and 76 percent in USA Today. 

Men ruled the airwaves as well. The study looked at 11 major national television shows, finding that men had 81 percent of quotes on general election topics. Among individual shows, men were quoted 87 percent of the time on CNN State of the Union, 81 percent of the time on Hardball, 78 percent on Face the Nation, 77 percent on Fox News Special Report, and 69 percent on Meet the Press.  

“Sometimes it takes a quantifiable analysis to be able to show that the voices represented are still not balanced, and this is especially frustrating when stories are focused on women’s health and women’s rights topics,” said Joy Bacon, a co-founder of The Gender Report, a research group that monitors gender representation in Internet news. “It’s just another reason why we need more women in all sectors, including the media and healthcare, so there are more expert sources to turn to in the first place.” 

In the report, called Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage, researchers studied a total of 2,750 print articles and TV segments in the six-month period from Nov. 1 to May 15, according to The 4th Estate. The total quote count was 50,754, according to the group. The organization, based in Montpelier, Vt., is an offshoot of the privately held research company Global News Intelligence and is focused solely on media coverage during the 2012 presidential election. 

Men didn’t just dominate stories on women’s issues, but stories on all election topics, including the economy and foreign policy.

Separately, a recent study called The OpEd Project found that men are writing the majority of opinion columns in the media. In that study, researchers at the site The Byline Blog evaluated more than 7,000 opinion columns in 10 media outlets over a 12-week period from Sept. 15 to Dec. 7, 2011, and found that women wrote just 33 percent of opinion columns in new media (websites), 20 percent in traditional media (print publications), and 38 percent in college media.

Numbers like these are “shocking but not surprising,” said Jasmine Linabary, a co-founder of The Gender Report. “Studies have consistently found that women are roughly a quarter or less of news sources. Counts like these continue to draw awareness and raise questions about why this might be the case. The answers are complicated, but the next question we need to ask ourselves is, what can be done about it?”