Two new studies show men outnumber women in obits

Mother Jones | CJR

2012 was a great year for men to die. "Big papers' lists of significant deaths in 2012 overwhelmingly feature men," Dana Liebelson writes in Mother Jones.

The Washington Post put 18 women and 48 men on its list. On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times listed 36 women and 114 men. And lest you think this is some kind of freak 2012 phenomenon, the New York Times has consistently listed many more men than women over the last five years.

Obituaries are a "rearview mirror," New York Times obituaries editor Bill McDonald tells Liebelson. "The people we write about largely shaped the world of the 1950s, '60s and, increasingly, the '70s, and those movers and shakers were—no surprise—predominantly white men."

In the new issue of CJR, Stephen G. Bloom writes about a project in which University of Michigan grad students examined Times obituaries from 1942-2012. Among their findings:

• Where the dead were educated has remained relatively constant: The Ivy League reigns supreme.

• The obits have always been male-heavy. In 1972, a typical female obit was two paragraphs, and spoke not of the deceased’s accomplishments but of those of her husband and sons.

• Starting in the 1990s, the obits became more diverse, racially and ethnically, but also in terms of people who had distinguished themselves in occupations other than business or politics—attorneys, artists, scientists, athletes, and actors.

From CJR:

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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