Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Don't Women Contribute to Wikipedia?

I've had a terrible muscle cramp or something in my right shoulder blade today, so I'm not really up to much blogging tonight.  So I thought I would just post an article that I found intriguing, even though it doesn't really deal directly with middle schoolers, although it does have some impact at all ages....

The Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that is responsible for Wikipedia, did a study that showed that only 13% of people who write Wikipedia entries are women.  The question, of course, is why such a collaborative, community-driven, and open-access project as Wikipedia is so male dominated.  There have been a rash of articles written investigating this subject, but my favorite is this one by the New York Times.

Does it matter?  Well, I think it probably does (which is how I connect it to middle schoolers).  Wikipedia is just such an important resource in our digital age.  A recent Pew survey reported that over half of the adults who regularly use the Internet rely on Wikipedia for information (with usage skewed towards the younger adult population).  I use it with my middle schooler at least several times a week.  It is one of the resources that I've taught him is relatively reliable as an information source.  But while I trusted the community vetting of information, I had never imagined that there would be such a gender difference among the writers.

With such an overwhelming percentage of male contributors, however, I now have to assume an underlying male bias.  The New York Times article reports several instances of topics of interest to women that contain only a few paragraphs, whereas topics of interest of men have much more extensive entries.

Is this really a problem?  I'm not sure, but intuitively, I don't like it.  What should we do about it?  I don't know.  But I'm just glad to be aware of the issue, and to perhaps be a bit more careful about recommending it to my middle schooler as an exclusive or definitive information source.

1 comment:

  1. A recent article in Slate Magazine looks at how few female writers appear in magazine. However, the ratios this article quotes look good compared to the 13% female participation rate in Wikipedia. You can read the article at: