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Journalism's gender problem, in 4 charts

Jill Abramson is one of a rare breed of woman journalists who lasted more than a decade.
Jill Abramson is one of a rare breed of woman journalists who lasted more than a decade.
Getty Images

When Jill Abramson became executive editor of the New York Times, it was seen as a step forward for women in journalism. But by a number of measures, women's progress in journalism had slowed to a crawl.

According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, the share of women at newspapers has fallen slightly since 1998, from 36.9 percent then to 36.3 percent as of 2012. The share of women in supervisory positions has likewise barely budged, moving from 33.8 percent to 34.6 percent.

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It isn't just that women's growth is flat at newspapers; according to a recent report from Indiana University, it has tapered off for all journalists.

That report, whose data comes from surveys of media organizations, finds that women in journalism boomed from 1972 to 1982. In that period, the share of journalists who were women jumped from one-fifth to more than one-third. But after that, it leveled off. In fact, in 2002 it was even lower than in 1982.

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There was an uptick between 2002 and 2013, but the sort of explosive growth that we saw in the 1970s and early 1980s is gone.

It may seem surprising that women make up just under 38 percent of all full-time journalists. But then, women only make up around 43 percent of all full-time workers nationwide, suggesting that journalism may not be so far from the norm.

While the share of women in journalism has flattened a bit, so has progress toward closing journalism's gender pay gap, according to Indiana's survey respondents.

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Interestingly, that's not because women's pay has risen; rather, men's pay has fallen. According to Indiana's data, women in 1970 made around $45,600 in 2012 dollars, compared to $44,342 in 2012. Men, meanwhile, saw their pay fall from $70,742 to $53,600.

So what's behind these figures? One factor may be men's seniority. The longer-tenured the journalist, the more likely he is to be a man.

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As for why this seniority divide has happened, that's tougher. There could still simply be a hangover from the days of the 1970s, when men outnumbered women to a greater degree. This could also to some degree be a sign of women "opting out" once they have kids, a phenomenon that happens in many occupations.

But what it does show is that Jill Abramson, who had been involved in journalism for more than 40 years, was one of the relatively rare experienced women in journalism. That lends even greater weight to Abramson's status as executive editor — a long-tenured woman journalist in an industry where long-tenured women journalists are outnumbered two to one by men.