The Gender Gap at the Academy Awards

A Data-Driven Analysis of Gender Representation in 88 Years of Academy Awards


Over the 88 editions of the Academy Awards, several things have remained constant. The Red Carpet. The golden statuette. And the absence of women nominees. 

Which isn’t to say that women are absent from the event. During the Academy Awards season, pictures of actresses monopolize the front pages of websites, magazines, newspapers, and TV shows. Their bodies are discussed, their designer clothes, their hairstyles, their make-up, their dates.

And still, very few women are actually nominated for an Oscar. And even less win one.

Let’s look at numbers. Did you know that in the history of the awards, only 17% of the nominees have been women? Or that in the upcoming 2016 Oscars, five categories had no female nominee at all? We explored the data behind the Gender Gap at the prestigious Academy Awards. See our findings below.

This Silk site is built from structured data on more than 16,000 award nominations (1929 - 2016), 7,000 unique nominees and almost 5,000 unique nominated movies. In short: every nomination, nominee and movie that took part in 88 years of Academy Awards ceremonies.

You can read our findings, or also play with the data yourself: click "Explore" to quickly query the information, explore patterns, visualize data interactively, share it all in a few clicks on social media, or embed the (responsive) graphs online.

Note: you might want to read our notes and methodology section for information about how the dataset was built and structured!  For questions, you can also drop me a line at alice [at] silk.co (I also have conflicting thoughts about whether to look at absolute or weighted percentages: please share your thoughts on this!)

How to Use This Silk: Browse the charts and maps below. Click "Explore" anywhere on the site to go into visualization and filtering mode. Search for individual pages or entities in the top search box.

The 2016 Edition: 26% of the awards have an all-male nominee list

Excluding acting awards, there are no female candidates in 5 categories of the remaining 19 categories. We already know for sure that no women will stand a chance of winning a prestigious statuette for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Music Score, Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing.

On the other hand, we are probably going to see some slightly sexist stereotypes confirmed, when the Costume Design statuettes is assigned: 80% of this year’s nominees in the field are women. The only category out of the 19 where women are more represented than men.

Female Nominees (Weighted Percentage) of 2016 Academy Awards Nominees

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

Details on Gender of Nominees at the 2016 Academy Awards

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

The good news: This year marks an all-time record for share of female nominees

For the 1929–2016 period, the female award nomination share is 17%, a depressing 65 percentage points lower than the male share. Luckily, though, things seem to be slowly getting better. Despite constant lows, the share of female nominations has never dropped below this historic average since 1982. And this year, the 51 nominated women hold a 27.5% share of the nomination pot: the highest ever recorded!

Female and Male share of the nomination list

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

The bad news #1: at this rate, it will take 118 years to close the Oscar’s gender gap

The first Oscar edition of 1929 started with a 10.7% share of female nominations. This current one, with 27.5%, improved the ratio by an impressive 16.8 percentage point. But it took 88 ceremonies.

As we saw before, the percentage of female nominees fluctuated a lot throughout the years, and it’s hard to make predictions. But let’s take these numbers to calculate the average per-year improvement. We get that female nominations grew on average by 0.19 percentage points per year, between 1929 and 2016.

Wondering what this actually means? Well, that you’ll probably never live up to see a gender balanced Academy Award ceremony. At that rate, it would take 118 years before we reach an equally distributed rate of male and female nominations. So stay tuned for the 2134 Oscars!

We could assume that women’s representation at the Oscar is moving at a faster and faster pace from the ’30s. And, therefore, that this gender gap will close sooner than predicted. But the per-decade average share of female nominations doesn’t confirm this optimistic assumption. Quite the opposite, actually.

The percentage of female nominations grew especially during the 1970s and ’80s (is second-wave feminism to thank?). In the last decades, however, the average relative growth has almost stalled. Women have been 22.5% of the nominees between 2000 and 2009. And 22.7% between 2010 and 2016. Not much improvement, overall. Actually, this is the slowest growth rate ever recorded, if we exclude the all-time low records registered during the ’40s. Let’s hope for a booming crew of ladies to steal the stage in the last editions of the 2010s’ Oscars!

Female Nominees (Percentage, Weighted) per Decade

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

The bad news #2: Oscar wins are even more likely male dominated than nominations

So the Academy seems to be making an effort to nominate more female candidates. But a the number of female winners hints that this might be more of a facade operation, rather than a deep structural change in its preference for male candidates.

Between 1929–2015 women got on average 13% of the win share every year. And there’s no sign of that (slow) growth that we saw when looking at female nominations. Just three years ago, the share of female wins was below the historical average. And in 2009 it was still just 10%. In other words, over the 88 editions, men held on average 87% of win share each year.

Female and Male share of statuette wins

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

The current female wins growth rate is of 0.08 percentage points per year. (With all the caveats applied when predicting the first gender balance nominee lis). This suggests that women will be equally represented among statuettes holders in almost half a millennium! (436 years, to be precise).

This value, is of course just speculative, and we don’t know what the gender gap improvement rate will look like for statuette winners. We do know that, while the share of female nominees grew through the last decades, the same isn’t equally true for Oscar wins.

Female Nominees and Winners (Percentage, Weighted)

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

Male Nominees and Winners (Percentage, Weighted)

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33. If you prefer to have a look at the absolute numbers, you can click "Explore" and choose to plot the unweighted variables

What women (don’t) win: Disaggregating the Oscar gender gap.

The overall numbers on female nominees through time hide another gender inequality. Women are represented poorly in nearly all categories of the Awards. Yet, the Oscar gender divide is particularly pronounced in certain fields more than in others. To the point that, in some categories, a woman has never been nominated for an Oscar. Let alone won one.

Two categories stand out for women’s ratio of Oscar nominations and wins. Interestingly enough, they’re both those more traditionally associated with female roles and stereotypes: Costume Design and Makeup & Hairstyling. Costume Design is the only category in which women surpass men both among nominees and winners.

Documentaries, both shorts and feature films, are also a good way for women to access a statuette. But other than this, in all other categories women are below 16% of the nominees and winners.

Female and Male Nominees (Percentage, Weighted)

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33

Female and Male Winners (Percentage, Weighted)

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short: "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations". One solo female nomination in one award counts as one, one female nomination in an award shared with other two guys will count as 0.33

The previous charts show how the Oscar gender gap articulates in different field. And that thes situation is incredibly unequal in some fields in particular.

Some examples:

  • Since the Animated Feature Film category has been instituted in 2001, only in 2013 a woman has finally managed to win an award: Brenda Chapman for Brave. The following year, Jennifer Lee joined the club thanks to Frozen. (Note: both of them however shared the prize with a team of fellow men).

  • Among Cinematography nominees: No wonder there has never been a female winner. So far, 88 editions and a total of 638 candidates. And yet not a single female nominee.

Women are scarce also among Directors, Assistant Directors and Special, Visual or Engineering Effects.

  • For Directing only one woman has won: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009. In this category, the Academy has only nominated four women out of 438 candidates: Lina Wertmuller (1976), Jane Campion (1993), Sofia Coppola (2003) and Bigelow.

  • For Special/Visual/Engineering Effects only seven female candidates have been nominated out of 681 total nominees. In other words, men comprise 99% of candidates. Only three women have won this category since 1928: Vivian Greenham for The Guns of Navarone (1961), Suzanne Benson for Aliens (1986) and Janek Sirrs for The Matrix (1999).

What we learn by disaggregating the gender gap by category is that some fields are unreasonably more gender unbalanced than others. And that the path to a more equal Academy Award ceremony is more complicated than a sole, indiscriminate, numeric boost of female nominations. It needs to address why women don’t actually win a statuette as much as men. And most importantly, the selection of Oscar female talents needs be more diversified across the different artistic fields.

The Oscar Gender Gap per Award Field

See footer of the page for note on what "Weighted" means. In short, "Female nominees" actually refers to "female share of award nominations".

Note on weight: Each nomination can have more than one nominee (For example: Scientific And Engineering Award of 2014 went "to EMMANUEL PRÉVINAIRE, JAN SPERLING, ETIENNE BRANDT and TONY POSTIAU for their development of the Flying-Cam SARAH 3.0 system."). To distinguish nominations with multiple nominees from those with single nominees, I weighted each nominee by the number of other nominees that shared the award with him/her. So, for example, the datapoints referring to EMMANUEL PRÉVINAIRE, JAN SPERLING, ETIENNE BRANDT and TONY POSTIAU each have a "Nomination Weight" of 0.25.

When calculating the % of female and male nominees per year or award category, I made both a calculation using the raw numbers (for example: # female nominees out of the total nominees) and a weighted one (for example: sum of "nomination weight" of female nominees, divided by total sum of "nomination weight" for male and female nominees).

On this note: obviously, only people were counted when calculating % of female and male nominees. Therefore, if a nomination has, for example, as nominees: MGM, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, each of the three will have a "nomination weight" of 0.33. However only two were added up to calculate male/female ratios (total: 0.66).

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