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AO3 Ship Stats: What Would We Expect?

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One common response to the AO3 Ship Stats is that the large number of ships between white men is to be expected, since the majority of characters in the media are white men. Here’s some investigation into that claim.

The Results

The ships from the 2015 stats fall into the following categories (with characters of ambiguous gender or race contributing 50% probability to each of the two possible categories):

[Image transcription:

X - White - Whi/POC - POC - All
M/M - 55.0 - 9.5 - 5.5 - 70
F/M - 19.8 - 6.0 - 0.3 - 26
F/F - 1.3 - 2.5 - 0.3 - 4
All - 76 - 18 - 6 - 100]

Firstly, I wanted to compare these statistics with a ‘random’ distribution given the same proportions of each row and column, to see any biases within each category.

[Image transcription:

X - White - Whi/POC - POC - All
M/M - 53.2 - 12.6 - 4.2 - 70
F/M - 19.8 - 4.7 - 1.6 - 26
F/F - 3.0 - 0.7 - 0.2 - 4
All - 76 - 18 - 6 - 100]

Only two categories - White F/M and POC F/F - have about the values expected. Three more are underrepresented in the data compared with the expected values - White F/F, POC F/M and Whi/POC M/M. The other four categories - White M/M, POC M/M and Whi/POC F/M and F/F - appear more in the data than would be thought.

Census Data

The majority of fandoms on AO3 are shows or movies created in the US, so I next compared the information to US census data, which states that 63% of Americans are white and non-Hispanic (the category used for the AO3 Ship Stats) (source). I assumed that 50% of the population is male and 50% female.

Assuming that in fandom, everyone is equally attracted to everyone, regardless of race or gender, we would expect the following distribution:

[Image transcription:

X - White - Whi/POC - POC - All
M/M - 9.9 - 11.7 - 3.4 - 25
F/M - 19.8 - 23.3 - 6.8 - 50
F/F - 9.9 - 11.7 - 3.4 - 25
All - 39.7 - 46.6 - 13.7 - 100]

Compared with this prediction, the actual data contains 45 more White M/M ships than expected, and significantly fewer ships than expected for the White F/F, POC F/M and Whi/POC F/M and F/F categories.

The Land of Television

However, as many people have pointed out, casting on TV shows does not necessarily reflect the true population. On television, major characters are 71% male (source) and 76% white (source). Again assuming that pairings are allocated randomly by gender and race, the expected distribution would be:

[Image transcription:

X - White - Whi/POC - POC - All
M/M - 29.1 - 18.4 - 2.9 - 50.4
F/M - 23.8 - 15.0 - 2.4 - 41.2
F/F - 4.9 - 3.1 - 0.5 - 8.4
All - 57.8 - 36.5 - 5.8 - 100]

Although closer to the actual data, this still predicts only about half the actual value of White M/M pairings. The categories most lacking in the actual data are Whi/POC (mixed race) pairings and F/M pairings, although F/F pairings also appear less than predicted.

Conclusions

In summary, the tendency for fandom to favour white M/M pairings can only be partially accounted for by bias in casting. The AO3 ship stats favours white M/M pairings above all predictions, with the majority of the difference originating from F/M and mixed race pairings.