Not Good Enough – Gender Breakdown Of The 100 Most Popular Books In American Colleges

The books students read in college shape the leaders of tomorrow, and with inclusivity and representation being so central to today’s society, you’d think that there would be an equal split of male/female writers of the most-assigned college books in America, right? Wrong. Out of the 100 most-popular books in American colleges, only 20 of the books have a sole female author, two are mixed, and the remaining 78 are written by men.

This is one of the findings of the latest study from the team at DegreeQuery, who went on a mission to uncover the landscape of American college literature. They analyzed 3,603,489 syllabi from over 2,500 colleges to find out the most frequently-assigned books in US colleges.

Of those 22 books with female authors, around a quarter apply to the stereotypically female occupation of nursing. And several are more or less explicitly concerned with feminism, from Wollstonecraft’s proto-feminist Vindication to Harriet Jacobs autobiography of slave life to Gilman’s ‘feminist gothic’ short story, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper‘.

Some of the Key Findings:

  • The most commonly assigned college book in the US is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  • ●  Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is the most-assigned book in Ivy League colleges, appearing in 209 syllabi.
  • ●  William Strunk’s The Elements of Style is the most-assigned book at America’s top public schools.
  • ●  The most-assigned work of literature is Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.
  • ●  Of the 100 most-assigned books in US colleges, 78 had male authors, 20 had female, and two had mixed authors.

In addition to the gender breakdown the study also compared books that Ivy League students were assigned and reading vs those in Public Schools. You might be surprised to know there is a distinctly literary edge to public school book recommendations next to the social, political, and economic books that top the Ivy League chart. But both groups are clearly fixed on studying human nature. Thomas Hobbes’ legendary societal critique is number one for Ivy League schools, and Joseph Conrad’s take on the imperialist mindset is the most-assigned unique title for top public schools.

Everybody has to write papers in college, so it’s no surprise that many of the most-assigned books in the US are writer’s handbooks. Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference and A Pocket Style Manual appear frequently across the map; the former is assigned across 1,734 courses in Alabama alone.

The book with the biggest punch, though, is The American Promise: A History of the United States. It appears on 3,273 syllabi in Texas, making it the book with the most assignations in any one state. The book is particularly beloved of political and social history students, for whom the generous helping of illustrations and first-person testimony brings the story of America to life.

You can take a look at the full research by clicking here. The results of this study aren’t exactly surprising, when it comes to the lack of gender equality. But it is certainly a wake up call that while we continue to see forward momentum toward equality in public life, what we teach the next generation of leaders and thinkers matters. Who they learn from shapes their ideas of the world and power. Here’s hoping this data will be fuel for change for those in the academic world who have the power to set the syllabus and assign reading materials. Women’s voices, stories and expertise matter and are crucial to ensuring a more equal and just world.