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    A Study of Amateur Radio Gender Demographics

    By Ken Harker, WM5R
    March 15, 2005


    One of the under-represented demographics in the Amateur Radio world is women. Everyone knows that there are many fewer female hams than there are male hams, both among those licensed and those active on the air. As a competitor at some of the major Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) meets, I’ve noticed that the womens’ entry categories have had only about a fifth as many entrants as the mens’ categories. As an HF phone contester, I’ve observed that a very small percentage of my QSOs are made with women operators (as low as 2%!). So how many women Amateur Radio operators are there?


    This map shows the distribution of female Amateur Radio operators. By region, the Northeast has the lowest percentage of female hams, and the West has the highest.

    Estimated Number of Hams in Each State, by Gender

    State

    Female %

    Male %

    Total

    DC

    7.88

    92.12

    540

    NJ

    10.55

    89.45

    18,802

    CT

    11.55

    88.45

    10,144

    MA

    11.7

    88.3

    17,707

    PA

    11.87

    88.13

    29,307

    RI

    11.99

    88.01

    2,842

    MD

    12.06

    87.94

    13,663

    IL

    12.2

    87.8

    27,501

    NY

    12.3

    87.7

    38,631

    MN

    12.58

    87.42

    13,359

    DE

    12.77

    87.23

    1,779

    MI

    13.07

    86.93

    25,813

    WI

    13.32

    86.68

    13,202

    VA

    13.39

    86.61

    21,254

    IA

    13.52

    86.48

    7,872

    NH

    13.65

    86.35

    6,150

    IN

    13.84

    86.16

    18,554

    OH

    13.94

    86.06

    36,410

    SC

    14.05

    85.95

    8,682

    FL

    14.39

    85.61

    51,583

    NE

    14.42

    85.58

    4,670

    NC

    14.59

    85.41

    22,916

    GA

    14.62

    85.38

    18,434

    AL

    15.13

    84.87

    13,137

    AZ

    15.24

    84.76

    19,549

    TX

    15.28

    84.72

    53,322

    ME

    15.31

    84.69

    5,605

    MO

    15.36

    84.64

    15,580

    KY

    15.43

    84.57

    10,826

    VT

    15.47

    84.53

    2,721

    CO

    15.58

    84.42

    15,286

    LA

    15.6

    84.4

    8,137

    NV

    15.71

    84.29

    6,359

    MS

    15.87

    84.13

    5,797

    KS

    15.97

    84.03

    8,764

    OK

    15.98

    84.02

    11,512

    TN

    16.15

    83.85

    17,656

    SD

    16.44

    83.56

    1,959

    NM

    16.81

    83.19

    6,820

    OR

    16.9

    83.1

    16,771

    WV

    17.07

    82.93

    7,948

    CA

    17.11

    82.89

    126,891

    ND

    17.25

    82.75

    1,905

    WY

    17.61

    82.39

    2,001

    WA

    17.68

    82.32

    30,933

    ID

    17.92

    82.08

    5,620

    UT

    17.93

    82.07

    11,287

    HI

    18.3

    81.7

    4,288

    MT

    18.84

    81.16

    3,811

    AR

    19.19

    80.81

    8,790

    AK

    20.65

    79.35

    4,034

    Since the FCC does not collect gender information with license applications, you cannot simply query the FCC database for this statistic. One method is to survey the amateur population by sending out a questionnaire to a statistically meaningful sample of the Amateur Radio population. The ARRL periodically conducts surveys of the ham radio population in the United States. The 1992 and 2003 surveys each showed that 13% of all US hams were female. The 2003 survey showed that 5% of ARRL members were female.

    Categorizing the FCC Database

    I decided to try another method of determining the number of female Amateur Radio operators in the United States. I wrote a program in the Perl programming language to query a copy of the FCC database that was downloaded from the FCC servers in June 2004 and loaded into a MySQL database. The script extracts the data in the first_name field for every amateur, normalizes each name by converting it to all lowercase characters and filtering out the most common “noise” (stray commas, extra spaces, titles like Dr), and then matches each name to a list of some 6690 names I’d categorized as Male, Female or Uncertain. My master list of names was mostly built from the US Social Security Administration’s lists of most popular baby names by gender. I also examined the list of first names from the FCC database that were not in my initial list. Where I could confidently categorize a name (“Adolf” for example, has not been a popular name for children in the US since World War I, but it is obviously a male name), I would add it to the list.

    This technique is far from foolproof. There are many names, such as Robin or Casey, that are common for both men and women in this country. Names of Asian heritage, Arabic or Hebrew linguistic heritage or Eastern European heritage were also difficult for me to categorize, and mostly remained in the “uncertain” category. There were also various misspellings or alternate spellings for names that I just cannot figure out. And some use only their initials instead of their complete names, or simply had blank first names. Nevertheless, I think this approach is close enough to get some broad insight into the probable size and distribution of the female amateur population in this country.

    My software computes the number of hams categorized as Female, Male and Uncertain in each state, as well as for the database as a whole (which also includes amateurs in FCC administered political entities like Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands and US Armed Forces Europe). From those numbers, I compute the percentages of Male, Female and Uncertain Amateur Radio operators. Hawaii has an unusually high percentage of Uncertain (16.25%)--a result of Hawaiian language first names with which I am personally unfamiliar--but almost all the other states had an Uncertain percentage below 10%.

    My software also computes the Female and Male percentage of amateurs who have not been categorized as Uncertain. This value shows what the Male and Female percentages are if you assume that the Male/Female ratio of those classified as uncertain is the same as those that were classified as either Male or Female. The map was drawn from these adjusted percentages.

    A Look at the Numbers

    For all amateurs in the FCC database (with a total of 847,809 hams in the June 2004 database I used), 115,266 were categorized as Female (13.60%) 660,798 were categorized as Male (77.94%) and 71,744 had first names that led to a classification of Uncertain (8.46%). If we look at the adjusted percentages, my estimate is that the Amateur Radio population in the United States is 14.85% female and 85.15% male. This is a slightly higher female percentage than the ARRL surveys indicate, and almost three times as high as the percentage of ARRL members who are women.

    There is some significant variation from state to state. The District of Columbia and the state of New Jersey come in at the bottom, with just an estimated 7.88% and 10.55%, respectively, female ham radio population. Alaska, on the other hand, has an estimated 20.65% female ham radio population. Arkansas and West Virginia both stand out by having much higher percentages of female hams than their neighboring states. In general, the northeast US is below average, the southeast US is average and the Western US is above average. I hope this map encourages hams everywhere to think about ways to attract more women into the Amateur Radio Service, especially in those parts of the country where they seem to be less likely to join in.

    The master names file I used, as well as the complete breakdown by state code are both available on my Web site.


    A ham since 1993, Ken Harker, WM5R, is a computer scientist and consultant for a company that specializes in Internet performance monitoring and analysis. He holds an Amateur Extra class license. A former president of the University of Texas Amateur Radio Club, Ken is the current Webmaster for the Central Texas DX & Contest Club. You can contact the author by surface mail at 7009 Fireoak Dr, Austin, TX 78759, on the Web or via e-mail.


       



    Page last modified: 10:32 AM, 15 Mar 2005 ET
    Page author: awextra@arrl.org
    Copyright © 2005, American Radio Relay League, Inc. All Rights Reserved.