We were so much older then, we’re younger than that now: A Statistical Look at the Hugo Awards For Best Novel

There are often discussions online and in real life about the age of award winners, be it the Hugo, the Nebula or other awards. Statements like “old people win the Hugos now, but that wasn’t true in the beginning” abound. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single source of information to see whether or not this is true. (This means people are making statements based on assumptions and not factsa shocking situation, I tell you! Shocking!)

True, there is Nicolas Whyte’s very informative and interesting page. But it lists years of birth, and doesn’t plot the age the author was when winning, which is what these discussions often revolve around. This is an attempt to try and rectify this situation and crunch some of the numbers. There is some math involved, but luckily for all of us, the most painful part was done by OpenOffice Spreadsheet, so we’ll also have pretty graphs.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the Hugos, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel and Best Short Story. I’ll also have a look at the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Before starting, a quick word about how these numbers were obtained. I looked for the year of birth of nominees and winners on Wikipedia, www.isfdb.org, and my trusty Nicholls and Clute Encycopedia of Science Fiction. To get people’s ages, I simply substracted their year of birth from the year the convention took place (yes I know, if someone’s birthday fall’s after the convention then they would have been a “year” younger  I will leave the obtention of more exact information as an exercise for the student.) Co-authors of a nominated work are counted separately. For winners, the average age of co-authors was used.

First we’ll look at the nominees.

This graph plots the average age of nominees in red, the age of the oldest nominee in green and the age of the youngest in orange. That elegant silver diagonal line rising across the graph is the age that someone who was 18 at the 1953 Worldcon would be through the yearsI call it the Silverberg Standard.

If we do a linear regression on these numbers, we get the following equations:

Oldest nominee:
f(x) = 0.02x + 56.36
R2 = 0

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.03x + 33.87
R2 = 0.01

Average age:
f(x) = 0.05x + 43.54
R2 = 0.04

While those slopes are positive, they’re also pretty flat.

Next, let’s compare the average age of nominees (red) and their median age (burgundy). The light grey area represents the age range of the nominees.

Linear regression on the median gives us:

f(x) = 0.08x + 41.63
R2 = 0.06

Finally a look at the winners (dark blue). Again, the shaded area represents the age range of nominees.

Linear regression on the age of winners:

f(x) = 0.04x + 44.2
R2 = 0

Again the slope is fairly flat. In all these cases, R2 is close to zero, which means it’s well pretty much impossible to predict the age of the nominees and winners based on the year they won.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 78
Age of the youngest nominee was: 25
Age of the oldest winner: 63
Age of the youngest winner: 30 (barely, a few days later they turned 31)

So what can we conclude from all this? Several things:

The average age of nominees did indeed increase since the beginning of the Hugos, by slightly less than 3 years over the 58 years of the Hugo’s history. The median age on the other hand increased by a bit over 4.6 years during the same period of time. Right now the two are almost equal. The age of winners has increased over time by about 2.3 years.

So, yes, there is some increase, but it’s far from the dramatic “everyone was younger then and it’s just old folks now” situation that some people seem to think it is. Also the rumored under thirty winners seem to be nowhere in sight. Well, it’s often been said that people win the Best Short story awards when they’re younger since people often start by writing shorter forms, so next week, we’ll look at the winners of the Best Short Story Hugo.

But before we do! While I have a complete set of data for the Best Novel Hugo. I’m missing the year of birth of several winners and nominees for the other awards I’m planning to look at, and would appreciate any help in completing the gaps in my data. (Lack of proper biographical data on writersanother shocking situation!) If you’re one of these people, or know their birth year, please contact me in private, either through my Tor.com shoutbox or via e-mail at [email protected]

Here is the list. I will remove names as I get the info:

Mary C. Aldridge
Dennis R. Bailey
Jane Beauclerk
Raphael Carter
Kevin Christensen
Barbara Delaplace
James A. Durham
Sharon N. Farber
Edgar Fong
Richard Garfinkle
Hayden Howard
Karen G. Jollie
Alex Kirs
Karin Lowachee
Daniel Marcus
John Marks
Susan R. Matthews
Larry McCombs
Bridget McKenna
Jesse Miller
Amyas Naegele
Scott Nichols
Richard Olin
Susan C. Petry
Carrie Richerson
Lezli Robyn
Robert Rohrer
R. B. Russell
Frances Sherwood
Petrina Smith
Brooke Stevens
Mark Sumner
Tia V. Travis
Genevieve Valentine
Paula Volsky
Kit Whitfield

René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics. This has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, write reviews of francophone short fiction for The Portal, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.