Unconscious bias towards female artists

October 23, 2019

Unconscious bias towards female artists

In a recent paper* released by four academics reveals that art by female artist sells at a relatively lower price than that by male artist at auction, which the difference is merely induced by gender.  Using 1.5 million art auctions across 45 countries, the authors discover a 47.6% gender discount in auction prices for paintings. The discount prevails in countries with a larger gap in gender equality. One might think that the themes selected by female artists probably appeared less attractive to art collectors. In the first experiment, a painting was post to test whether a person could figure out the gender of the artist by observation. Half of the painting samples were created by women, and in general the respondents were 50.5% correct, which meant they could not determine whether the art was created by male or female artist. The price disparity was not induced by gender difference in talent or choice of subject. Other influences such as the size, style or medium of the works, or the age of the artist, did not assert impact on female price discount, as discovered by the authors. 

In the second experiment, respondents were asked to score (0 to 10) how much they liked ten computer generated paintings, with randomly assigned male or female artists’ names. Women’s names were associated with lower scores, especially for the affluent group who visited art galleries or exhibitions a few times a year. 

Statistically the authors found a correlation among gender auction price discount with country gender inequality in the countries where the auctions took place. Using the indicators of United Nation gender inequality index, World Economic Forum gender gap index, etc. to do the measurement, countries where women were more equal showed a comparatively lower average discount applied to a female artist’s work. The price discount and the female artists’ art transaction percentage differed across countries. The cultural influences of the role of women in the society was indispensable in auction results. 

The female auction price discount is decreasing over the years, with a falling trend 1970 onwards. Indicated in the paper, the price discount has been reduced from 33% (1970s) to 8% (after 2010) for transactions under one million US dollars. The trend echoes with the diminishing gender inequality throughout the period. Hopefully with a more culturally diverse, bias free auction market in the future, more female artists can be recognised and encouraged in their art creation, and attain better return and career advancement.  


*“Is gender in the eye of the beholder? Identifying cultural attitudes with art auction prices”, by Renée Adams, Roman Kräussl, Marco Navone and Patrick Verwijmeren

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