Life Is Short, Art Is Long: A Statistical Look at the Hugo Awards For Best Short Story

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 decide whether or not this statement is true.

This is the second of a series of posts that attempts to rectify this shocking situation. This week, we’ll be looking at the ages of nominees and winners for the Best Short Story Hugo. It’s often been said that people start their career with short stories before writing novels. If this is true, then the Short Story Hugo should reflect this by having younger writers on the ballot.

Before starting, a quick word about how these numbers were obtained. I looked for the year of birth of nominees and winners on Wikipedia,, 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 to tally data on nominees. In the case of a tie, the average age was used. Authors with multiple nominations in the same year were only tallied once.

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. Like last week’s graphs, the Silverberg Standard is still there.

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

Oldest nominee:
f(x) = 0.23x + 49.89
R2 = 0.13

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.07x + 331.55
R2 = 0.05

Average age:
f(x) = 0.17x + 39.16
R2 = 0.23

Those slopes are positive, and they’re not as flat as the ones for the Best Novel Hugo. But what’s this? The much talked about under-30 nominees make their appearance! We’ll talk about them later on.

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:

Median age:
f(x) = 0.18x + 37.76
R2 = 0.21

Again, we have quite a slope. So we’re definitively seeing some sort of increase in the age of nominees.

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

Linear regression:

Age of winners:
f(x) = 0.18x + 37.66
R2 = 0.07

Again the slope is higher than for Best Novel. In all these cases, R2 is higher than the equivalent value for Best novel, but still doesn’t indicate a significant correlation between the age of the nominees and winners, and the year they were nominated or won.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 89 (Edgar Rice Burroughs, post-humously)
Age of the youngest nominee was: 25
Age of the oldest winner: 77
Age of the youngest winner: 28

And to help you compare with last week’s post, here is a graph of the Hugo winners for both Best Novel (light blue) and Best Short Story (dark blue):

So what can we conclude from all this?

Several things:

The average age of nominees also increased since the beginning of the Hugos, by 9.5 years over the 56 years of this Hugo’s history. This is more than 3 times the increase we saw in the Best Novel category. The median age increased by a bit over 10 years during the same period of time, which is a bit more than double the value of the media age for Best Novel.

The expected age of winners has also increased over time by about 10 years—more than 4 times the increase we saw in the Best Novel category.

The age of nominees and winner was definitively younger 50 years ago that it is today. Maybe the old saying that writers start their careers with short stories and then move on to novels was true back then. It certainly doesn’t seem so today, where we see the ages of nominees and winners be pretty much equal between the two categories.

But if we look at the past 20 years, what do we see?

The age of the oldest nominee is still increasing. This is largely due to the fact that Mike Resnick, (nominated fourteen years in that period of time, and the oldest nominee eleven times) insists on aging with every passing year (see how he parallels the Silverberg Standard starting back in the early nineties). Meanwhile, the age of the youngest nominees is still increasing, but more slowly, indicating new writers are being nominated, and the age of the winners is following a downwards trend.

Now for the rumored under thirty winners. Well there are some, three to be exact (in ’67, ’68 and ’70). Even if you add the dozen nominees (spread out a little more evenly, though none since 1999) you still have a very small minority of the nearly 300 nominees this category has seen over the years.

There is definitively an increase, more than in the novel category. Is it the dramatic “everyone was younger then and it’s just old folks now” situation that some people say it is? I don’t think so and the trend looks like it may well be reversing; we’ll have to see how things look in a decade or so.

Next week, we’ll look at the winners of the Nebula for Best Novel. Maybe all the under thirty winners are chosen by other writers?

Note: I should mention I am missing the ages of one winner (Will McIntosh) and three nominees (P. J. Plauger, Susan C. Petry, and Bridget McKenna). This missing information may well drastically change the trends we’ve been looking at! If anyone has solid information on the year of their birth, or for any of the other people mentioned in the first post of this series, please contact me in private, either through my shoutbox or via e-mail at [email protected] Thank you!

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.

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