New Study Shines Light on Country Radio’s Gender and Age Inequality
Between a Billboard Country Airplay chart for the week of April 13 with just one woman (25-year-old Kelsea Ballerini) in the Top 10 and two straight years with only men nominated for the ACM's Entertainer of the Year award, gender inequality on commercial country radio and at the genre's awards shows has never seemed more blatant. Recent statistics gathered by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative back up this notion while magnifying another issue: The shunning of artists past a certain age comes way sooner for women.
When it comes to overall disparity, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's study found that, between 2014 and 2018, only 16 percent of the 500 songs to make the year-end charts were performed by women. That means that, for every one woman, 5.2 men earned a spot. This data covers more than the usual hitmakers and considers the successes of 816 different artists.
Perhaps the most telling statistics, however, compare the ages of the men and women appearing on the charts during this five-year span. The average age of the eight best- performing men is 42 years old, with only 29-year-old Thomas Rhett challenging the success of 51-year-old Keith Urban, 51-year-old Kenny Chesney and such 40-somethings as Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.
The average age of the eight top-performing women on the charts, meanwhile, is 29 years old -- and the women challenging the status quo were typically under 30 years old. Thirty-five-year-old Miranda Lambert and 36-year-old Carrie Underwood as the oldest consistently charting female stars. Keep in mind that, among others, Shania Twain -- once a lock for airplay -- returned, at age 52, with the 2017 album Now, so it’s not as though women over 40 stopped making commercially viable music during the years in question.
In short, few women make the country charts -- and the ones who do cycle out at a much younger age than their male counterparts.
"While the results of this study might not be surprising," says Dr. Stacy L. Smith, director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, "they illuminate the fact that gender and age play a role in restricting the careers of female country music artists."
Beyond women as performers, the study's numbers prove that there's also an unfair playing field for songwriters. Despite the recent critical and commercial success of Brandy Clark, Lori McKenna and others, only 12 percent of the songs considered during a two-year span were written or co-written by women. The study also found that “female artists were more likely to work with female songwriters than male artists were across that period,” meaning more women on the radio would likely help even out two different statistics.
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