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Lynette Long, Ph.D., President of EVE

by Lynette Long, Ph.D., President of EVE
July 8, 2010 · Comments Off  

When researchers compare the performance between two groups on a particular variable, the word “gap” is often used. The difference in earnings between men and women is a “wage gap.” The difference in school test scores between two groups of students is an “achievement gap.” The difference between the number of girls and boys competing in high school or college athletics could be called the “participation gap.”

Here at EVE we are interested in the visibility gap, which we will define as the difference in the number of images of men versus women in a specific area, such as stamps, currency, or statues. The visibility gap is computed by determining what percentage of images are male and what percentage are female, and then subtracting the difference. Here are some examples:

visibility gap_image001

Paper Currency in Circulation

Seven out of seven of the bills in circulation have pictures of men on them.

  • Percentage of paper currency with images of men = 100%
  • Percentage of paper currency with images of women = 0%
  • Visibility Gap = 100% – 0% = 100%

Commemorative Stamps Issued Between 2000 and 2009

Between 2000 and 2009 the U.S. Postal service issued 206 stamps honoring individuals, of which 163 honored men and 43 honored women.

  • Percentage of stamps issued with images of men = 79%
  • Percentage of stamps issued with images of women = 21%
  • Visibility Gap = 79% – 21% = 58%

U.S. Quarter Reverses

Between 1999 and 2009 the U.S. Mint issued a series of 56 quarters, one in honor of each state or territory. All of the quarters had images of George Washington on the front, and a unique image on the reverse for each state or territory. Ten of these reverses commemorated the achievements of individuals; of these, nine honored men and one honored a woman.

  • Percentage of quarters honoring men = 90%
  • Percentage of quarters honoring women = 10%
  • Visibility Gap = 90% – 10% = 80%

Statues in National Statuary Hall

There are 100 statues of individuals in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Ninety-one of the statues are of men, nine are of women.

  • Percentage of statues honoring men = 91%
  • Percentage of statues honoring women = 9%
  • Visibility Gap = 91% – 9% = 82%

The visibility gap is a useful metric because it compares relative performance across different areas. The higher the visibility gap, the greater the disparity between the representation of men and women. The lower the visibility gap, the more equal the representation.

In the four areas analyzed above, we can see that the visibility gap is highest in our nation’s paper currency (no women depicted at all) and lowest in our nation’s stamps—though the latter figure is still a disappointing 58%. In none of the areas does the visibility gap approach zero, which would represent parity. In fact, nowhere is the visibility gap even 50%, which would mean a 75/25 split in representation.

The term “visibility gap” gives a name to the problem, and the numbers portray the extent of the problem. We introduce this term to give us a measure of where we are, how far we have to go, and, someday, how far we’ve come.

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