Gender balance in older sf anthologies

I now have author-gender stats for over 80 anthologies that I’ve looked at in the past couple years, from my father’s and my bookshelves, with publication dates ranging from 1951 through about 1990, plus a few outliers outside of that date range.

(This post is essentially an update of my post from a couple years ago, when I had looked at only 25 anthologies. In this new post, I’m not distinguishing between my father’s anthologies and my own.)


At least 75 of these are science fiction and/or fantasy anthologies. My stats are based in large part on author names and/or my perception of gender presentation; it’s only in a few cases that the books include author bios written by the authors, using pronouns chosen by the authors. (And thus there’s only one author who I know is nonbinary. I recognize that my methodology is imperfect here, and may well be erasing some other nonbinary people who weren’t publicly out or who wrote under traditionally-binary-gendered names; I apologize for that. There are also a few authors whose first names and/or genders aren’t clear from the resources available to me.)

Some numbers

Only nine of these anthologies have more than 25% women authors. Only five have more than 40%. Twenty of these anthologies contain no stories by women at all.

The good news is that the numbers are, by and large, significantly better in more recent years than in earlier years. And during my reading project so far, I’ve looked at only half a dozen anthologies dated after 1990, so I’m missing a lot of recent data.

But it’s interesting to note that the non-sf anthologies, even from the earlier part of my date range, tend to have much higher percentages of stories by women than the sf anthologies. The European-literary-fiction anthologies are only around 10% stories by women (which is still far better than many of the sf anthologies), but for example, Famous Stories of Code and Cipher, published in 1947, had 25%. (But I only have half a dozen data points for non-sf anthologies, too few to justify generalizations.)

Among the sf anthologies, Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder, unsurprisingly, had 100%. More surprising to me: Jane Yolen’s 1994 YA anthology 2041 had 80% stories by women.

(Almost all of the editors in all these anthologies are men, of course, and the Sargent and Yolen examples make it easy to jump to the conclusion that women are more likely to select stories by women. But analysis of magazines in the past has shown that that’s not generally true.)

The most intriguing shift, to me, is the pair of Fantastic Imagination anthologies. The first one, dated 1977, contained sixteen stories, but only two by women. The followup second volume, dated 1978, also contained sixteen stories, but eight of them were by women. The introduction to the second volume talks about selection criteria, which include (I’m paraphrasing) looking for good stories and looking to cover a wide range of types and time periods of high fantasy. It mentions briefly in passing that a lot of then-new fantasy writers are women, but doesn’t indicate that they were trying for gender balance.

One surprise to me: I had been under the impression that in the large number of anthologies that contained only one story by a woman, that woman was usually Le Guin or Zenna Henderson or Anne McCaffrey. But it turns out that there were a bunch of different women in that situation. Among the only-woman-in-an-anthology were:

3 Responses to “Gender balance in older sf anthologies”

  1. Frederic Bush

    How are you classifying Tiptree? Non binary?

    • Jed

      Good question. I’m counting Tiptree as a woman, but I recognize that there are arguments to be made for other options.

      (IIrc, Julie Phillips suggests in her bio that Tiptree might have been trans, but I don’t feel like we know enough to say that for sure.)

  2. Jed

    Addendum, unrelated to Tiptree: It belatedly occurs to me that the phrase “gender balance” is itself kind of erasing of nonbinary people. I’ll try to be more careful about that in the future.


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