Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sexism at NPR?

I've been asking myself the following question, "is it my imagination, or does NPR have significantly more stories on female topics than male"? Seemingly every single day I see nominally 1-3 stories on women's issues, and maybe one on men's issues.

So I decided to sit down and see if I could answer this question with data. Fortunately NPR has a web API allowing me to write a program to extract not only the stories, but the story metadata. Additionally NPR tags each story to identify their subject.

Edit 1: The program used as a basis for this post.


NPR has 23,529 tags - really too many to analyze manually in a short amount of time. I wrote a program to extract the tags that I identified as related to female issues.

Female tags
  1. Pink ribbon breast cancer awareness
  2. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
  3. American Association of University Women
  4. Girl Scout cookies
  5. for colored girls
  6. Afghan women
  7. women's heatlh
  8. Gay Girl in Damascus
  9. Word Girl
  10. African-American female members of Congress
  11. Leadership Conference of Women Religious
  12. vegetarian mothers
  13. unmarried black women
  14. adoptive couple v. baby girl
  15. single mothers
  16. The Real Girl's Guide to Everything Else
  17. Golden Girls
  18. most powerful women
  19. single women
  20. comfort women
  21. new mothers
  22. Mothers 2 Mothers
  23. women in tech
  24. daughter
  25. daughters
  26. The Other Boleyn Girl
  27. women's world cup soccer
  28. girl
  29. women's rights
  30. black women
  31. Grammar Girl
  32. teenage girls
  33. Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film
  34. Girl Scouts
  35. female governors races
  36. Fly Girls
  37. International Women's Day
  38. breast cancer
  39. American Girl
  40. Day of the Girl
  41. girl vs. lion video
  42. women's ski jump
  43. Pioneer Women
  44. girls basketball
  45. Girls
  46. Violence Against Women Act
  47. Girls Rock
  48. teen girls
  49. International Day of the Girl Child
  50. representation of women
  51. gilmore girls
  52. Saudi women voting
  53. women
  54. women and Islam
  55. Saudi women driving
  56. women's issues
  57. women CEOs
  58. women farmers
  59. Women's Health
  60. women in combat
  61. women in government
  62. adolescent girls
  63. girl rising
  64. women in politics
  65. women in science
  66. pregnant women
  67. Scottish girl food blog
  68. India's Daughter
  69. women in tech, data
  70. Women's Figure Skating
  71. women's basketball
  72. Rock and Roll Camp for Girls
  73. black women and marriage
  74. missing women
  75. girls' rights
  76. Cameron's daughter
  77. Gossip Girl
  78. female genital mutilation
  79. black girls matter
  80. sexism
  81. female vote
  82. Super Girl
  83. feminism
  84. Republicans and women
  85. #15Girls
  86. pregnant girls
  87. women's skiing
  88. women's soccer
  89. women's World Cup
  90. women's studies
  91. sexism in tech
  92. Mother's Day
  93. ovarian transplant
  94. changing lives of women
  95. 15girls
  96. Girl Talk
  97. mother-daughter relationships
  98. working women
  99. mothers
  100. National Anthem girl
  101. female commentators
  102. violence against women
  103. Grandmother Fish
  104. Texas judge beats daughter
  105. discrimination against women
  106. Girl Up
  107. Grandma drummer
  108. Powerpuff Girls
  109. women's right
  110. Weary working mothers
  111. women's history month
  112. breast cancer, mastectomy, Samantha Harris
  113. center for american women and politics
  114. male-to-female ratio
  115. A Breast Cancer Alphabet
Male tags

These are the male tags:
  1. My Three Sons
  2. men on tv
  3. men's basketball
  4. men's clothing
  5. Men's Figure Skating
  6. Men's Health
  7. sexiest men
  8. Men's Journal
  9. men's rights
  10. Scottsboro Boys
  11. men's soccer
  12. fear of black men
  13. boys
  14. 10-year-old boy
  15. Boy Scouts
  16. creepy men on motorcycles
  17. Balloon Boy
  18. like father like son
  19. magnet boy
  20. educating black boys
  21. Boys on the Bus
  22. boy dropped to firefighter
  23. Forest boy
  24. sons of confederate veterans
  25. Yes Men
  26. Boy Scouts of America
  27. bubble boy
  28. fathers
  29. lost boys
  30. prostate
  31. Lost Boys of Sudan
  32. male supremacy
  33. yukon men
  34. Father's Day
  35. black male privilege
  36. prostate cancer
  37. Father Dollar Bill
  38. Fat Boys
  39. black men
  40. male-to-female ratio
  41. The Last Boy
  42. Big Trap Boy
  43. men
  44. trans male
  45. Hope's Boy
These are hardly a clean list of tags. Both lists have tags that don't really belong, and are surely missing some tags that do. "Balloon Boy" probably has nothing to do with boys vs. girls issues, and "Super Girl" may only be about the upcoming movie - nothing else. My guess is that these invalid tags likely only bring in a few stories that don't belong - so probably don't skew the numbers dramatically.

That being said, there are a few observations:
  1. There are 2.5x the number of "female" tags than "male".
  2. I don't see a single pejorative female tag title.
  3. There are several pejorative male tag titles:
    1. black male privilege
    2. creepy men on motorcycles
    3. fear of black men
    4. Yes Men
    5. Fat Boys


I first downloaded 154,554 stories covering 2010 through December 2015. I then wrote a program to analyze all story tags from the two lists above.


Overall there are

  1. 5.38 times more female stories than male.
  2. 2.26 times the number of stories about girls than boys.
  3. 2.84 times the number of stories about female cancer than male.
  4. 7.8 times the number of general female stories than male. By general I mean once you've removed cancer, and youth totals.


So I guess my real question is, "is NPR biased against men"? One can, and many do, argue that the world has been a man's world for a very long time now, and now that women are making inroads to male spaces (business, government, military, etc.), these are newsworthy, and explain the greater attention to "female" stories than "male".

I don't know - I'm not a statistician or scientist - so can't say for sure. This was a very unscientific one day analysis, so I hesitate to draw more than a general impression from what I've seen so far. However, my general impression is that these totals skew very strongly toward women. Given that breast cancer kills about 50% more woman than prostate cancer kills men (according to the CDC) why are nearly three times the number of stories about breast cancer than prostate cancer? Are girls worthy of well over twice our attention than boys? The largest disparity are stories about healthy adult men and women - why are there nearly eight times the stories about women's issues?

Does NPR care about men?



  2. As a long time (decades) NPR listener I am not the least bit surprised at your findings. I'm curious though, could you do the same thing for their "gay" coverage? In my experience it is extensive and uniformly positive. Surely any movement for social change would have at least a few negative consequences.

  3. Great job! Thank-you. For those of us LESS technically inclined, this is a perfect use for technology!

  4. Hi Chris, I contacted NPR's Ombudsman about the results of your study. It's on the NPR Ombudsman Facebook page.

    Here it is: "Well, I've written several times about how NPR's tagging is faulty--unfortunately it's just not a reliable way to analyze coverage." It's a bit thin...

    1. Thanks Unknown. Yes, I agree their tagging isn't perfect, and relying solely on tags to determine the story subject(s) yields imperfect results. I'm currently toying with some machine learning and clustering algorithms to see if I can auto classify the stories.