Do women voice their opinions less as they get older? According to the 2012 Byline Report, 38% of articles from College Media are written by women, a considerably higher percentage than those in both Traditional and New Media (20% and 33% respectively). In regards to who gets cited as an expert, the trend is similar. The chart below illustrates the vast divide in the use of males and females as experts in the media, though it does not start out that way. For ages 12 or under, 27% of females are cited as experts, compared to 12% of males. Males overtake females as experts by age 13, but by only 2%. It is really when we get to ages 19-34, at the college, graduate school and full-time career stages in life, that the gap in numbers between male and female experts becomes significant, with 25% of women cited as experts and 36% of men. From here on, the divide increases with age, until we get to 50% male experts and only 16% female ones at age 65 or above.
In other words, in the 65+ age group, a woman is less likely to be cited as an expert in the media as a boy in the 13 to 18 age group.
Clearly, the crucial demographic here is college students. Young women entering undergraduate programs start out on a relatively equal playing field with their male counterparts in terms of the weight of their public voice. So what happens in the college years and beyond that lessens the power and credibility of female opinion? As a Columbia College student myself, I am personally invested in exploring and ameliorating this issue, especially since I recently learned, from a chat with my professor, that the field in which I am interested in obtaining a PhD, Philosophy, has the atrocious male to female applicant ratio of 6 to 1 at Columbia. Sure, we are used to hearing about the small number of women studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), but this gender imbalance within Philosophy–the study of knowledge itself, indicates just how deep-rooted this problem is.
It is clear to me that the time has come for the OpEd Project to extend itself to college-age thinkers, writers and speakers, and get to the very root of the gender imbalance in public leadership within our culture. Let’s shape the minds of our youths during the most formative years of their intellectual and professional development, training them to reframe their experience and knowledge for the public good, and most importantly, to value their own thoughts, to SPEAK UP. Such a program would enable women and other underrepresented groups to contribute equally not only to opinion journalism, but to all leadership roles in their chosen professions.
This is what I hope to work on after I come back from Paris and rejoin the OpEd Project in the Spring as the PVF Junior Fellow.
To open up the public forum to the underrepresented, to create a more diverse generation of future cultural leaders and innovators, we must first encourage the youth to voice their thoughts.
-Xueli Wang, PVF intern