We Turn Not Older With Years, But Newer Every Day: A Statistical Look at the World Fantasy 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 World Fantasy 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 sixth 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 World Fantasy Awards (WFA) for Best Short Story. When we compared the WFA, the Nebulas and the Hugos for Best Novel, we saw quite a few similarities between the Nebulas and the WFA, with the Hugo being the odd man out.

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. I also spammed politely asked a number of people who kindly responded. To get people’s ages, I simply substracted their year of birth from the year the Awards 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 multiple winners, the average age of both 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. Like previous 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) = 0.01x + 54.08
R2 = 0

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.15x + 31.78
R2 = 0.09

Average age:
f(x) = 0.15x + 40.86
R2 = 0.11

Again, the age of the oldest nominee is barely increasing, the age of the youngest nominee and the average age is going up.

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) = 0.26x + 37.98
R2 = 0.24

The median is increasing much faster than any of the other curves we’ve seen so far. 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) = 0.03x + 45.23
R2 = 0

This slope is fairly flat, the age of winners has barely increased by a year over the lifetime of the awards. This is a very different curve than the one for Best Novel.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 73
Age of the youngest nominee was: 26
Age of the oldest winner: 69
Age of the youngest winners: 30

Now, let’s compare the winners for Best Novel (light blue) and Best Short Story (dark blue).

Well, it’s obvious there’s a huge difference in the demographics of the Best Novel and Best Short Story nominees and winners — obviously the juries didn’t always go for the same writers in all the categories. How do the Hugo and Nebula winners compare to the WFA winners? In this graph, the WFA winners are in dark blue, the Nebula winners in light blue and the Hugo winners in purple.

Last week the Hugos were the odd man out, but this time it’s the Nebulas. the trendline for the ages of winners for the Hugos and WFA are almost the same, while the one for the Nebulas is most definitively rising.

Now let’s look at the nominees, in this graph, the pink shaded area is the age range of the Hugo nominees, the blue shaded area is the age range of the Nebula nominees. Trend lines for the two awards are purple and blue respectively. The orange and green lines are for the youngest and oldest WFA nominees, respectively.

First thing we can notice is that the trendline for the youngest nominees is flatest for the WFA. The age of the oldest nominees is also much younger than for the Hugos or, these days the Nebulas. Presumably, the members of the World Fantasy Convention are doing a better job at noticing young talent when it comes to short fiction. There was also an interesting dip in the age of hte oldest nominees for the WFA in the early 80s.

Last week I mentioned that the WFA and Nebulas Award were very similar to each other, but this conclusion is totally shattered with what we’ve got here. This time around it’s the statistics for the WFA and the Hugos that resemble each other the most. I guess it just goes to show that the people who nominate, and vote for all these Awards try to surprise us every year. And that’s the way it should be. 

Next week: the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Note: I am missing the ages of six nominees (Sharon N. Farber, Amyas Naegele, Petrina Smith, Tia V. Travis, R. B. Russell, and Genevieve Valentine). This missing information may well drastically change the trends we’ve been looking at! (Oh dear!) 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 Tor.com shoutbox or via e-mail at [email protected]

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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