Is there evidence for the “teen girl” hypothesis?

My first reason for starting to look at the historical data for American Idol was my perception that there is a significant anti-woman bias to the contest. My interest was piqued during Season 9, when the number of women being eliminated was particularly front-ended. When Pia Toscano was eliminated last night, in the most shocking and most unfair result yet in Idol history (more about that in a future post), chatter on the internet focused on one thing: young girls with their text message voting were ruining the contest.

Let’s hold on a minute.

It is a peculiar truth that American pop music, and indeed music in general, is dominated by men. In 2005 Rolling Stone conducted a survey to determine the “most influential and significant artists of all time”. The list included 90 male artists and 10 female artists, with only two women in the top 40 (Aretha Franklin at position 9 and Madonna at position 39). And who were the “experts” choosing these people? 52 men and 2 women.

Rolling Stone conducted another survey, the 500 top songs of all time, similarly lopsided in who it polled (149 men, 23 women). That list included 445 male sung songs and 55 female sung songs. Only 6 songs performed by women appeared in the top 100.

However, of the best selling albums of all time, 36.7% are by women. This is skewed, but not nearly the 9:1 ratio found in popular critical opinion. Thus it is hard to evaluate what the public at large likes when it comes to gender in music. You can certainly point anecdotally to huge female stars (Miley Cyrus and Mariah Carey come immediately to mind), but it may be easier to point to phenomenally popular male groups (Backstreet Boys, Jonas Brothers).

In this post, I’d like to explore the possibility that young, female voters are throwing off Idol results irreparably. To accept the hypothesis, I would need to be convinced of several things. One is that the narrow demographic of young women dislikes female artists at a rate higher than the population. The second is after texting (SMS) and facebook voting was permitted, the bias against women got worse, and that young women text more than other demographic groups. The third is that this effect should scale: the more texts, the worse it should be. Continue reading