“Jeopardy” contestant Julia Collins is making news this week for being the most successful woman in the game’s history, currently at nine wins and counting. Only three players have won more: Arthur Chu, who had 11 wins this year; Dave Madden, who won 19 games in 2005; and, of course, Ken Jennings, the current record holder with his 74-game win streak in 2004.
How have women fared compared with men in the game’s history overall? Is there a gender pay gap in “Jeopardy” winnings similar to the pay gap seen in the workforce? For answers I turned to j-archive.com, a “Jeopardy” fan site that maintains records of nearly every episode that’s aired in the Alex Trebek era of the show. I scraped the site for the winners and winnings of each show for the past 10 years. I ran the names through genderize.io to determine the likely gender of each winner. After tossing out records with names showing a gender certainty of less than 85 percent, and records that the scraper couldn’t parse due to irregularities on the j-archive site, I ended up with a sample of a little over 1,800 “Jeopardy” matches. The conclusion: Women are winning more often than they used to.
In 2004, 14 percent of “Jeopardy” winners were female. But so far this year, women are winning more than 50 percent of the time. Aside from Collins, contestants Sandie Baker and Sarah McNitt have also gone on five-plus game winning streaks this season. The historical disparity between male and female win frequencies can partially be explained by the fact that women are less likely to appear on “Jeopardy” in general. Only 40 percent of contestants are female, according to a recent Slate analysis.
There’s also been some speculation that “Jeopardy” questions are biased toward men. Seven out of nine of the show’s writers are male, as are four of the five researchers.
The yearly percentages do jump around quite a bit. Last year, for instance, women won only 23 percent of the time. But overall the numbers are trending upward. It will be interesting to see whether the strong showing by women in the first half of this season will continue. No pressure, Julia.
The statistics also show that, this year, female “Jeopardy” champions are winning 89 cents on the dollar compared to men. This gender pay gap — measured in terms of average winnings per game — is slightly smaller than the gap in the general labor force, where women earn 84 cents on the male dollar, according to Pew Research Center estimates. In recent years the “Jeopardy” gap has been as small as a few cents, and in 2012 women and men achieved complete pay parity. The gap has narrowed quite a bit in the past decade. In 2004, women earned only 58 cents on the male dollar. But Jennings is at least partly responsible for the 2004 gap: Men’s earnings were especially high then, mostly because Jennings had 11 $50,000-plus games that year.
Roger Craig’s average winnings per game of $38,367 is still the highest among champions who have won more than five games in their career. Larissa Kelly has the second-highest average earnings, at $37,100. Collins is in the bottom-middle of the champion pack on that measure with her average of about $21,000 per game.
Overall, “Jeopardy” is becoming a more equal playing field between men and women. As girls continue to outperform boys in school, and women continue to graduate from college at higher rates than men, I’d expect this trend to continue in the coming years. If we are headed for the end of men in the economy overall, don’t be surprised to see this reflected in your favorite game show, as well.