Where are the female composers?

Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Frederic Chopin are household names, but few will recognize Francesca Caccini, Elisabeth Lutyens or Amy M. Beach, who are among the top-10 female composers of all time. Why are female composers overshadowed by their male counterparts? Using novel data on over 17,000 composers who lived from the sixth to the twentieth centuries, we conduct the first quantitative exploration of the gender gap among classical composers. We use the length of a composer’s biographical entry in Grove Music Online to measure composer prominence, and shed light on the determinants of the gender gap with a focus on the development of composers’ human capital through families, teachers, and institutionalized music education. The evidence suggests that parental musical background matters for composers’ prominence, that the effects of teachers vary by the gender of the composer but the effects of parents do not, and while musician mothers and female teachers are important, they do not narrow the gender gap in composer prominence. We also find that the institutionalization of music education in conservatories increases the relative prominence of female composers.

That is from a new research paper by Karol Jan Borowiecki, Martin Hørlyk Kristensen, and Marc T. Law, via K.


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