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I'm still right

Last week's post about the fact that authors born between 1942 and 1951 was picked up pretty widely (John DeNardo, Andy Wheeler, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Niall Harrison) but the only place it really drew comment was james_nicoll's post on "The Secret of the Over-Achieving Cohort". Most of the comments on that post (which number well over a hundred in total) are dedicated to disproving Doug Muir's over-hasty statement that "there are very few SF writers under 35 today, and basically none under 30". There were, however, several directed to my argument, as follows:

1) This isn't surprising - it's just the baby boom generation.

Oddly, no. If WikiPedia is right, the peak birth rate for the post-second world war Baby Boom is well after 1951, among a cohort who have won fewer, rather than more, Hugos and Nebulas.

2) What happens when you shift your dates to 43-52 or 41-50 or 39-48 or whatever? Because this all seems very contrived and somewhat meaningless to me.

Since you asked, these are the figures of Hugo and Nebula awards won by year of birth from 1937 to 1956:

1937 11
1938 6
1939 6
1940 2
1941 2
1942 21
1943 10
1944 6
1945 24
1946 1
1947 18
1948 26
1949 9
1950 12
1951 18
1952 5
1953 4
1954 5
1955 8
1956 1
There are three earlier years with more than ten awards going to authors born that year - 1934 (Ellison/Brunner), 1926 (McCaffrey/Anderson) and 1920 (Asimov/Herbert/Vance). There is no year since with more than ten awards going to authors born in that year, and no author born since 1969 has won at all.

3) Could this anomaly be explained by having one or more outliers in this age group skewing their combined ratio enough to stand out? I'm thinking here of Connie Willis, who has won rather more awards than your average Hugo or Nebula award winner.

Makes less difference than you might have thought. Connie Willis, with her 15 awards, was born in 1945; so, however, were 8 other award-winning authors, none of whom has won more than two (Michael Bishop, Edward Bryant, Jack Dann, Gordon Eklund, Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Moon and Janet Kagan) and I reckon that flattens the curve. Only one of the other four authors with ten or more awards was born in my 1942-51 range (Joe Haldeman); the others were all born earlier (Poul Anderson, Ursula Le Guin, Harlan Ellison).

If any cohort's statistics are inflated by a couple of outliers, it is in fact that of twenty years later: four authors born in the 1962-71 range have won ten Hugos and Nebulas, and two of those four (Kelly Link and Ted Chiang) have won four each. (By contrast, twenty years ago, the 1942-51 cohort had already won 62 Hugos and Nebulas between them!)

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
fjm
Oct. 1st, 2006 08:26 am (UTC)
Smaller choice of authors, fewer places to publish, greater chance of voting population having read you. The fragmentation of the market spreads votes.
nwhyte
Oct. 1st, 2006 11:05 am (UTC)
Any idea of the time period you would put those changes in?
fjm
Oct. 1st, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
There are several rough periodisations but from the expansion of college education in the 1960s the number of the writers in the market grows exponentially, but in the 1970s in particular the number of markets decreases. Then in the 1990s we get an explosion of markets but they are small and niche (this particularly affects the short story Hugos).
bopeepsheep
Oct. 1st, 2006 09:21 am (UTC)
The definition of BabyBoom is very tricky though. That graph shows only US births - a very different set of data from European births 1939-1950. I can't find a link to hand but remember from school studying UK birth trends for the same period - the spike in births is dramatic from 1946 on, unsurprising as husbands and wives started to reunite in late 1945. The US didn't experience such fragmentation of families (it wasn't just men away at war, remember, but women and children evacuated from urban areas that split families up; men working in London or in coastal towns had fewer* children 1940-45 than they would otherwise). European families took a little longer to reunite in most cases, having to start by relocating each other. Many people had been engaged for the whole duration of the war and got on with having families asap afterwards, trying to rebuild an extremely fragmented society. There's no US parallel, so their data is irrelevant, to some extent.

1950s European births continued to rise, of course, but that was to do with new levels of prosperity. The big difference is between 1944 and 1947, not 1948 and 1951.

* Not to say that they didn't have any! Plenty of single/childless women stayed on... :-)
nwhyte
Oct. 1st, 2006 11:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, but the population I'm intersted in tracking is Hugo and Nebula winning authors, almost all of whom are US-born; and the spike in births of award-winning authors begins and ends earlier than the spike in births overall, which is anyway much smaller than the phenomenon I'm trying to explore.
bopeepsheep
Oct. 1st, 2006 11:29 am (UTC)
My point is that 'Baby Boom' is extremely vague as a term to pin any argument (or refutation) on (i.e. I would not call this a Baby Boom effect at all, even if the data was more in support of it).

Would there be a better representation among non-US authors if the birth rate had been better 1939-45? Would there be a better (or worse?) representation among younger authors if life had been easier in post-war Europe? Does the space race and/or Cold War have a significant influence on US and non-US writing rates? Those might be - and probably are - highly significant in the genesis of a writer, and the experience of both is quite different, depending on where you grew up, what regime was in place, and so on. There's also infancy in a time of war, how much does that affect the psyche?

As for no winners born since 1969 - that's interesting. I'll have to think a bit more about that before I have a coherent thought on it though.
kalimac
Oct. 2nd, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
What effect, concerning the 1942-51 cohort's domination over older authors, do you think has been had by the fact that only since 1973 have there consistently been 8 fiction Hugo and Nebula categories each year? Have you tried massaging your statistics by multiplying earlier years' wins by a factor to account for a lower number of awards? Even then, many of the older authors wrote most of their highly acclaimed work in the 50s or earlier, when Nebulas were non-existent and Hugos were extremely scattered (or also non-existent).

What does look significant, and unaffected by the above, is the tendency of the selected cohort to keep winning awards at an age when the older cohort had already been pushed out of most-frequent award-winning by this cohort. If you follow me.
nwhyte
Oct. 2nd, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)
Have you tried massaging your statistics by multiplying earlier years' wins by a factor to account for a lower number of awards?

Absolutely. That is factored in right from the beginning. See particularly the second graph here.

What does look significant, and unaffected by the above, is the tendency of the selected cohort to keep winning awards at an age when the older cohort had already been pushed out of most-frequent award-winning by this cohort.

I think that's right; but they also started winning more awards at a younger stage in their careers!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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