Why women can’t catch a break in the obituaries

Why don’t notable women get the same attention when they die that notable men get?

Mother Jones is asking that question today after releasing a survey of major papers — the Twin Cities papers were not included in the study — showing a remarkable lack of attention to notable women in obits.

The newspaper execs say pretty much what you’d expect them to say in a cringeworthy way: there aren’t enough notable women.


Obituaries editors say that the percentage of women on their notable deaths lists will increase over time because women in more recent generations have had more opportunities to make an impact. “We’re already seeing that happen,” says the Times’ McDonald. John Temple, a managing editor at the Washington Post, agrees that there will be “more women on the lists in the future.”

McDonald says he’s already seeing more women on the lists, but a graphical look at the last five years of New York Times notable death lists shows the number of women sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing, while the number of men has skyrocketed, widening the gender gap.

I sent McDonald a version of the graph below, and he said that he was referring to day-to-day obituaries. “I haven’t done a count.”