Gender bias on Wikipedia

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Former Wikimedia Foundation executive Sue Gardner provided nine reasons, offered by female Wikipedia editors, "Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia."[1]

Gender bias on Wikipedia, also known as the gender gap or gender imbalance, is the finding that between 84 and 91 percent of Wikipedia editors are male,[2][3] which contributes to the systemic bias in Wikipedia. It is one of the criticisms of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia community has acknowledged the problem and is attempting to narrow this gender gap.

Research findings[edit]

Surveys have indicated that a distinct minority—between approximately 8.5 and 16 percent—of Wikipedia editors are women.[3][4] Consequently, Wikipedia has been criticized by some academics and journalists for having primarily male contributors, and for having fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women. The New York Times pointed out that Wikipedia's female participation rate may be in line with other "public thought-leadership forums".[5] In 2009, a Wikimedia Foundation survey revealed that only 6% of editors who made more than 500 edits were female; with the average male editor having twice as many edits.[6]

In 2010, United Nations University and UNU-MERIT jointly presented an overview of the results of a global Wikipedia survey.[7] A January 30, 2011, New York Times article cited this Wikimedia Foundation collaboration, which indicated that fewer than 13% of contributors to Wikipedia are women. Sue Gardner, then executive director of the foundation, said that increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be." Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd," and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists."[8] In 2013, the results of the survey were challenged by Hill and Shaw using corrective estimation techniques to suggest upward corrections to the data from the survey and to recommend updates to the statistics being surveyed, giving 22.7% for adult US female editors and 16.1% overall.[9]

Surveyed Wikipedia editors were predominantly male. (Data from a 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey of Wikipedia editors)

In February 2011, the Times followed up with a series of opinions on the subject under the banner, "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?"[10] Susan C. Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics, said that she was not surprised by the Wikipedia contributors gender gap. She said that the often contentious nature of Wikipedia article "talk" pages, where article content is discussed, is unappealing to many women, "if not outright intimidating."[11] Joseph M. Reagle reacted similarly, saying that the combination of a "culture of hacker elitism," combined with the disproportionate effect of high-conflict members (a minority) on the community atmosphere, can make it unappealing. He said, "the ideology and rhetoric of freedom and openness can then be used (a) to suppress concerns about inappropriate or offensive speech as "censorship" and (b) to rationalize low female participation as simply a matter of their personal preference and choice."[12] Justine Cassell said that although women are as knowledgeable as men, and as able to defend their point of view, "it is still the case in American society that debate, contention, and vigorous defense of one’s position is often still seen as a male stance, and women’s use of these speech styles can call forth negative evaluations."[13]

The International Journal of Communication published research by Reagle and Lauren Rhue that examined the coverage, gender representation, and article length of thousands of biographical subjects on the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica. They concluded that Wikipedia provided better coverage and longer articles in general, that Wikipedia typically has more articles on women than Britannica in absolute terms, but Wikipedia articles on women were more likely to be missing than articles on men relative to Britannica. That is, Wikipedia dominated Britannica in biographical coverage, but more so when it comes to men. Similarly, one might say that Britannica is more balanced in whom it neglects to cover than Wikipedia. For both reference works, article length did not consistently differ by gender.[14]

In April 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted its first semi-annual Wikipedia survey. It suggested that only 9% of Wikipedia editors are women. It also reported, "Contrary to the perception of some, our data shows that very few women editors feel like they have been harassed, and very few feel Wikipedia is a sexualized environment."[15] However, an October 2011 paper at the International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration found evidence that suggested that Wikipedia may have "... a culture that may be resistant to female participation."[16]

A study published in 2014 found that there is also an "Internet skills gap" with regard to Wikipedia editors. The authors found that the most likely Wikipedia contributors are high-skilled men and there is no gender gap among low-skilled editors, and concluded that the "skills gap" exacerbates the gender gap among editors.[17]

As of 2014, women made up 61% of participants for college courses that included editing Wikipedia as part of the curriculum.[18]


Several causes for this gender disparity have been suggested. A 2010 study revealed a Wikipedia female participation rate of 13 percent, observed to be close to the 15 percent overall female participation rate of other "public thought-leadership forums".[5][19] Wikipedia research fellow Sarah Stierch acknowledged that it is "fairly common" for Wikipedia contributors to remain gender-anonymous.[20] A toxic culture and tolerance of violent and abusive language are also reasons put forth for the gendergap.[21]

Causes of the gender bias on Wikipedia have been found to be failure to attract and retain female editors, according to a 2013 study,[22] with a negative impact on Wikipedia's coverage.[22]

Former Wikimedia Foundation executive Sue Gardner provides nine reasons, offered by female Wikipedia editors, "Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia":[1]

  1. A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface;
  2. Not having enough free time;
  3. A lack of self-confidence;
  4. Aversion to conflict and a disinterest in participating in lengthy edit wars;
  5. Belief that their contributions will be reverted or deleted;
  6. Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic;
  7. Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting;
  8. Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender;
  9. Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone.

Lam et al.[16] suggest that there may be a culture which is non-inclusive of women on Wikipedia, which may be due to a disparity in male-to-female centric topics represented and edited, the tendency for female users to be more active in the social and community aspects of Wikipedia, an increased likelihood that edits by new female editors are reverted, and/or that articles with high proportions of female editors are more contentious.

In July 2014, the National Science Foundation announced that it would spend $200,000 to study systemic gender bias on Wikipedia. The study will be led by Julia Adams and Hannah Brueckner.[23]

Potential remedies for gender bias[edit]

Attendees at the 2013 Women in the Arts edit-a-thon in Washington, DC
  • Dedicated edit-a-thons have been organized to increase the coverage of women's topics in Wikipedia and to encourage more women to edit Wikipedia.[24] These events are supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, which sometimes provides mentors and technology to help guide newer editors through the process. Recent edit-a-thons have given specific focus to topics such as Australian female neuroscientists and women in Jewish history.[25]
  • Wikimedia Foundation's VisualEditor is said to be aimed at closing the gender gap.[26][27]
  • Systers, an organization supporting technical women in computing, has posted an article urging women to expand their editing efforts, and also specified extensive safety precautions that female editors should consider taking.[28]
  • A paper by Morgan and Walls studied the effective use of "Teahouses" to present a user-friendly environment for online collaboration of women editors on Wikipedia.[29]


The Wikimedia Foundation has acknowledged since at least 2011, when Gardner was executive director, that gender bias exists in the project. It has made some attempts to address it but Gardner has expressed frustration with the degree of success achieved. She has also noted that "in the very limited leisure time women had, they tended to be more involved in social activities instead of editing Wikipedia. 'Women see technology more as a tool they use to accomplish tasks, rather than something fun in itself.'"[30][31] In 2011, the Foundation set a target of having 25 percent of its contributors identifying as female by 2015.[8] In August 2013, Gardner said, "I didn't solve it. We didn't solve it. The Wikimedia Foundation didn't solve it. The solution won't come from the Wikimedia Foundation."[30]

Writing for Slate in 2011, Heather Mac Donald called Wikipedia's gender imbalance a "non-problem in search of a misguided solution." Mac Donald asserted, "The most straightforward explanation for the differing rates of participation in Wikipedia—and the one that conforms to everyday experience—is that, on average, males and females have different interests and preferred ways of spending their free time."[32]

In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced in a BBC interview the Wikimedia Foundation's plans for "doubling down" on the issue of gender bias at Wikipedia. Wales said the Foundation would be open to more outreach and more software changes.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gardner, Sue (19 February 2011). "Nine Reasons Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia, In Their Own Words". (blog). 
  2. ^ Andrew Lih (20 June 2015). "Can Wikipedia Survive?". Washington. Retrieved 21 June 2015. ...the considerable and often-noted gender gap among Wikipedia editors; in 2011, less than 15 percent were women. 
  3. ^ a b Statistics based on Wikimedia Foundation Wikipedia editor surveys 2011 (Nov. 2010-April 2011) and November 2011 (April - October 2011)
  4. ^ Hill, Benjamin Mako; Shaw, Aaron; Sánchez, Angel (26 June 2013). "The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation". PLoS ONE 8 (6): e65782. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065782. 
  5. ^ a b "Wikipedia Ponders Its Gender-Skewed Contributions -". 
  6. ^ "WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance" (PDF). 
  7. ^ Glott, Ruediger; Schmidt, Philipp; Ghosh, Rishab (March 2010). "Wikipedia Survey: Overview Results" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Cohen, Noam (30 January 2011). "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List". New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  9. ^ "The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation". PLOS ONE. 26 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?". New York Times. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Herring, Susan C. (4 February 2011). "Communication Styles Make a Difference". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Reagle, Joseph M. (4 February 2011). "'Open' Doesn't Include Everyone". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Cassell, Justine (4 February 2011). "Editing Wars Behind the Scenes". New York Times (opinion). 
  14. ^ Reagle, Joseph; Rhue, Lauren (2011). "Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica". International Journal of Communication (Joseph Reagle & Lauren Rhue) 5: 1138–1158. 
  15. ^ "Wikipedia Editors Study: Results From The Editor Survey, April 2011" (PDF). Wikipedia. April 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Lam, Shyong K.; Uduwage, Anuradha; Dong, Zhenhua; Sen, Shilad; Musicant, David R.; Terveen, Loren; Reidl, John (October 2011). WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance (PDF). WikiSym'11. ACM. 
  17. ^ Hargittai, Eszter; Shaw, Aaron (4 November 2014). "Mind the skills gap: the role of Internet know-how and gender in differentiated contributions to Wikipedia". Information, Communication & Society: 1–19. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2014.957711. 
  18. ^ Bruce Maiman (23 September 2014). "Wikipedia grows up on college campuses". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Yasseri, Taha; Liao, Han-Teng; Konieczny, Piotr; Morgan, Jonathan; Bayer, Tilman (31 July 2013). "Recent research — Napoleon, Michael Jackson and Srebrenica across cultures, 90% of Wikipedia better than Britannica, WikiSym preview". The Signpost. Wikipedia. 
  20. ^ "The women of Wikipedia: Closing the site's giant gender gap". 
  21. ^ "In UK, rising chorus of outrage over online misogyny". 
  22. ^ a b Jonathan T. Morgan; Siko Bouterse; Sarah Stierch; Heather Walls. "Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia" (PDF). Wikimedia Foundation. 
  23. ^ Harrington, Elizabeth (30 July 2014). "Government-Funded Study: Why Is Wikipedia Sexist?". Washington Free Beacon. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  24. ^ Stoeffel (11 February 2014). "Closing Wikipedia’s Gender Gap — Reluctantly". New York Magazine. Retrieved 27 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "The Wikipedia wars: does it matter if our biggest source of knowledge is written by men?". 
  26. ^ "Class war! Wikipedia's workers revolt again • The Register". El Reg. August 18, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Kate Middleton's wedding gown and Wikipedia's gender gap.". July 13, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  28. ^ Tripp, Dawn Leonard. "How to Edit Wikipedia: Lessons from a Female Contributor". Anita Borg Institute. Retrieved 2015-02-06. 
  29. ^ "Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia". 2013. 
  30. ^ a b Huang, Keira (11 August 2013). "Wikipedia fails to bridge gender gap". South China Morning Post. 
  31. ^ "Wikistorming". FemTechNet. Fall 2013. 
  32. ^ Mac Donald, Heather (9 February 2011). "Wikipedia Is Male-Dominated. That Doesn't Mean It's Sexist.". Slate. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  33. ^ Wikipedia 'completely failed' to fix gender imbalance, BBC interview with Jimmy Wales, August 8, 2014; starting at 45 seconds.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]