Is there gender bias on Have I Got News For You?

I noticed someone on Twitter last night point out that yet again, everyone appearing on Have I Got News For You was male. This piqued my interest, and I decided to take a look and see how HIGNFY had done over its existence in balancing representation of men and women.

The answer appears to be ‘not very well at all’.

Using the information from here, I went through each of the 44(!) seasons, looking at how many spaces there were for guests and how many of those guests were female. I also looked at how many episodes featured an entirely male guest line up, how many had entirely female guests and how many were mixed. From series 24 onwards, after Angus Deayton left, I also looked at the guest hosts and the male/female breakdown of them for each season. The results can be seen in this spreadsheet.

Of course, there’s also the institutional bias that means there’s a guaranteed 2 or 3 men (Ian, Paul and Angus) appearing in each episode, so remember that all of these figures have to be seen in that light.

Some ‘highlights’ from the figures:

  • On average, 23.27% of guests are women (219 out of a total of 941).
  • Similarly, 23.16% of guest hosts are women (41 out of a total of 177).
  • The highest percentage of female guests in a series was 37.5% – in series 1. The next highest was series 42 with 36.67%.
  • Series 42 was the first ever (and, to date, only) to feature a female guest in every episode.
  • The first ever episode featured two female guests. There have only been six other episodes with entirely female guests, with the last one in 1997 (season 13). There have been a total of 177 entirely male episodes, with the last one yesterday.
  • The lowest percentage of female guests was 8.33% in series 11.
  • Aside from a bit of a dip in the mid-90s of which series 11 is the nadir, I don’t spot much of a trend in the figures, though the number of female hosts per series has been creeping up slightly recently. However, as women aren’t 23% of the population, the figures do show that there’s much less chance of a woman appearing on the show than there is for a man. As an example, the total number of shows hosted by women (41) is the same as the number hosted by one of Alexander Armstrong (21), Jeremy Clarkson (10) or Jack Dee (10).

    (I’m sure there’s much more that can be done with these figures, so please feel free to take and use them as you wish, just please credit me with them. I’ll attempt to keep them updated as much as possible.)

    9 thoughts on “Is there gender bias on Have I Got News For You?”

    1. Unless one is making the claim that HIGNFY should positively discriminate by oversampling women, which may be a reasonable claim in its own right but isn’t the argument here, then surely the data would need to be broken down by the pool of talent available?

      The female share of the pool in question, consisting as it does approximately of comedians + politicians + pundits, is far closer to 23% than it is to 51%…

      1. But, as a counter, that pool is considerably bigger than 30 people (the maximum number of guests in any HIGNFY series) and it’s not random sampling from that group, there’s decisions to be made by someone about who gets asked.

        And the other question there is why is the female share of the pool closer to 23% than 51%? Is it because of some innate deficiency if you don’t possess a Y chromosome, or is part of the reason because they don’t see themselves on TV as much as men? (see the comment here for a better take than I can manage)

    2. Surely the comparison should be to how it compares to others in it’s genre – Panel shows in general (I’d suggest QI, Buzzcocks and Mock the Week as the main comparables here) – rather than the general population.

      …Although I’ve never seen anyone argue that panel shows are exactly good at gender representation, I just feel that it’d more useful to know how HIGNFY is compared to other comedy panel shows than in isolation.

      1. A quick look here suggests that Mock The Week started at around 20-30% and got worse, but I’m not sure that ‘we might be mad, but we’re not as bad as them’ is necessarily a good response.

    3. Hey Nick, kudos for the number crunching. I’ve created a graph out of your data (which you’re free to pinch) and discuss the issues a little here;

      I wrote to the producers of QI about this very subject two years ago and I thought their response was very instructive about the well intentioned but ultimately problematic attitude they have to this problem (I’ve included the letter in the link).

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