Gender bias on Wikipedia

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

Gender bias on Wikipedia refers to criticism of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and especially its English-language site, arguing that the nature and quantity of its content are biased due to the fact that a dominant majority of Wikipedia editors are male. It is among the most frequent criticisms of Wikipedia, and part of a more general criticism about systemic bias in Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, agrees with this criticism and has made an ongoing attempt to increase female editorship of Wikipedia.

Research findings

External video
Research proves gender imbalance on Wikipedia, 2:45, University of Minnesota[1]
Where Are All the Women? Wikipedia’s Gender Gap, 1:12:40, West Virginia University[2]

Some surveys have indicated that only about 8.516 percent of Wikipedia editors are female.[3][4][5] Consequently, Wikipedia has been criticized by some academics and journalists for having primarily male contributors,[6][7][8] 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".[9] In 2009, a Wikimedia Foundation survey revealed that 6% of editors who made more than 500 edits were female; with the average male editor having twice as many edits.[10]

In 2010, United Nations University and UNU-MERIT jointly presented an overview of the results of a global Wikipedia survey.[11] 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".[6] 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.[5]

In February 2011, The New York Times followed up with a series of opinions on the subject under the banner, "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?"[12] 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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

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.[16]

In April 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted its first semi-annual Wikipedia survey. It suggested that 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."[17] 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".[18]

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 that there is no gender gap among low-skilled editors, and concluded that the "skills gap" exacerbates the gender gap among editors.[19]

During 2010–14, women made up 61% of participants of the college courses arranged by the Wiki Education Foundation program that included editing Wikipedia as part of the curriculum. Their contributions were found to shift the Wikipedia content from pop-culture and STEM towards social sciences and humanities.[20]


Former Wikimedia Foundation executive Sue Gardner provided nine reasons, offered by female Wikipedia editors, "Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia."[21]

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".[9][22] Wikipedia research fellow Sarah Stierch acknowledged that it is "fairly common" for Wikipedia contributors to remain gender-anonymous.[23] A perceived unwelcoming culture and tolerance of violent and abusive language are also reasons put forth for the gender gap.[24] According to a 2013 study,[25] another cause of the gender gap in Wikipedia is the failure to attract and retain female editors, resulting in a negative impact on Wikipedia's coverage.

Former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner cites nine reasons why women don't edit Wikipedia, culled from comments by female Wikipedia editors:[21]

  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 an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars
  5. Belief that their contributions are too likely to 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.[18] 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.[26]

One concern is that articles about female subjects editors may be more likely to be tagged for deletion.[27][28][29]


The Wikimedia Foundation has officially held, 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.[6] 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]

Efforts to increase female editorship

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.[34] 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.[35]

VisualEditor, a project funded by the Wikimedia Foundation that allows for WYSIWYG-style editing on Wikipedia, is said to be aimed in part at closing the gender gap.[36][37]

The "Wikipedia Teahouse" project was launched with the goal to provide a user-friendly environment for newcomers, with a particular goal of boosting women participation in Wikipedia.[38]

An early-2015 initiative to create a "women-only" space for Wikipedia editors was strongly opposed by Wikipedians.[39]

See also


  1. "University of Minnesota researchers reveal Wikipedia gender biases". University of Minnesota. Retrieved November 21, 2016.
  2. "Tackling Wikipedia's Gender Gap". West Virginia University. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  3. 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.
  4. Statistics based on Wikimedia Foundation Wikipedia editor surveys 2011 (Nov. 2010-April 2011) and November 2011 (April - October 2011)
  5. 1 2 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.
  6. 1 2 3 Cohen, Noam (30 January 2011). "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List". New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  7. Reagle, Joseph. ""Free as in sexist?": Free culture and the gender gap". First Monday. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  8. "Joseph Reagle on the gender gap in geek culture". 26 February 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  9. 1 2 "Wikipedia Ponders Its Gender-Skewed Contributions -".
  10. "WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia's Gender Imbalance" (PDF).
  11. 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.
  12. "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?". New York Times. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  13. Herring, Susan C. (4 February 2011). "Communication Styles Make a Difference". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  14. Reagle, Joseph M. (4 February 2011). "'Open' Doesn't Include Everyone". New York Times (opinion). Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  15. Cassell, Justine (4 February 2011). "Editing Wars Behind the Scenes". New York Times (opinion).
  16. Reagle, Joseph; Rhue, Lauren (2011). "Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica". International Journal of Communication. Joseph Reagle & Lauren Rhue. 5: 1138–1158.
  17. "Wikipedia Editors Study: Results From The Editor Survey, April 2011" (PDF). Wikipedia. April 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  18. 1 2 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Bruce Maiman (23 September 2014). "Wikipedia grows up on college campuses". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  21. 1 2 Gardner, Sue (19 February 2011). "Nine Reasons Why Women Don't Edit Wikipedia, In Their Own Words". (blog).
  22. 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.
  23. "The women of Wikipedia: Closing the site's giant gender gap".
  24. "In UK, rising chorus of outrage over online misogyny".
  25. Jonathan T. Morgan; Siko Bouterse; Sarah Stierch; Heather Walls. "Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia" (PDF). Wikimedia Foundation.
  26. Harrington, Elizabeth (30 July 2014). "Government-Funded Study: Why Is Wikipedia Sexist?". Washington Free Beacon. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  27. "Editors Are Trying To Fix Wikipedia's Gender And Racial Bias Problem". Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  28. "Project Aims to Raise Profile of Women Architects on Wikipedia". Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  29. "Does academia have a place on Wikipedia?". Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  30. 1 2 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.
  34. Stoeffel (11 February 2014). "Closing Wikipedia's Gender Gap — Reluctantly". New York Magazine. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  35. "The Wikipedia wars: does it matter if our biggest source of knowledge is written by men?".
  36. "Class war! Wikipedia's workers revolt again • The Register". El Reg. August 18, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  37. "Kate Middleton's wedding gown and Wikipedia's gender gap.". July 13, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  38. "Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia". Proc. CSCW ‘13, February 23–27, 2013, San Antonio, Texas, USA. 2013.
  39. Paling, Emma, "How Wikipedia Is Hostile to Women", The Atlantic, 21 October 2015

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