I admit that I do not listen to much country music but when I do, it always seemed to me that the playlists on country radio are almost entirely men.
But is this a fair claim? Can statistical analysis help us decide?
When I first started thinking about this I realized that it is probably not fair to compare radio playlist counts of men and women singers to the proportion of men and women in the population (50/50). I do know that this sounds odd.
We need to consider that if the proportion women in the business of recording country songs is less than 50%, then we cannot expect the number of records by female artists that are ‘available’ to be played to be 50% of all country records. If fewer women are recording, then fewer women are available to be played on the radio.
To try to find out the real proportion of men to women who are in the business as a country artist I searched on line and found two lists of country artists which appeared to be independent of radio playtime.
In Wikipedia I found a list of “modern” country artists and I categorized these artists and groups by gender. The other list was from Country Notes which has attempted to create a complete list of all country artists from the early days through today. This list even contains a few pop stragglers such as Lionel Ritchie and Olivia Newton John who veered into the country lane.
Note: Group acts are counted as male or female depending on the lead singer (so Sugarland is counted as Female and Old Dominion is counted as Male).
From these two lists the ratio of male country artists to female country artists is about the same. The wiki list shows a ratio of 66% men to 34% women and the Country Notes list shows a ratio of 63% men and 37% women.
Given an assumption that more women are in the business today than in the early days, I picked a ratio of 65% men to 35% women as the make-up of all Country artists “available” to be played. One can see that this is much different number than 50% men and 50% women.
Therefore, right or wrong, when we listen to country radio, we should expect to hear about 65% of the songs feature male singers and about 35% of the songs feature female singers.
A side issue of “why” less women are in the country music business is a deeper topic and may actually be the real point of the issue. However, this article is not going to address that. I am just going to look at the numbers.
Now that we know what our expected proportion of male singers to female singers is, we can search the playlists from a sample of country music radio stations and calculate the percentage of men and women being played on the radio. We would compare this observed proportion to our expected proportion. I also took data from the Billboard Top 50 for the years 2016 and 2017 as well.
But how do we determine if the observed percentage of men versus women on a playlist is significantly higher than expected? If we find that a station is playing 66% male singers and 34% female is that significant? Is 70% men versus 30% women significantly different from our expected 65/35 ratio? Is 80/20 significantly different?
One method that can help us decide is a statistical tool called the Chi-Squared analysis for categorical data. This tool takes data such as Yes/No, Male/Female, Democrat/Republican/Independent and helps us to calculated differences.
This tool is used often in sociology, medicine, and biology studies and evaluates the observed proportions and compares them to the expected proportions. It then lets us know if the observed is significantly different than expected. For instance Chi-Squared analysis has helped to answer questions such as is there a difference in the effectiveness of Drug A between men and women or between Adults and Children.
Of course caveats to the results of this particular study apply.
- This study looks only at the numbers not at the reasons.
- Data from only four country radio stations was collected. Also the data from these stations is for one specific day’s playlist.
- I do not know how Billboard determines its “Top 50”.
- Chi-Square tests are sensitive to sample size. With small samples sizes it is harder to show a significant deviation between observed and expected.
- These results do not mean to imply any intentional bias by any organization or radio station.
- These results cannot explain ‘why’ more male singers are played than women.
Example Chi-Square Calculation:
Of the two samples from a major song ranking service's Top 50 list, the Top 50 for 2017 did not show a difference between observed and expected and the 2016 Top 50 did show a significant difference may exist (more men on the list than women)
Of the five radio stations sampled, 3/4 showed a significant difference may exist (more men played on the radio than women)
So there you go. The answer to the question “Does country radio play more male singers than female singers?” is a resounding “maybe.”