Qualities or Inequalities?: How Gender Shapes Value in the Market for Contemporary Art

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How does gender inequality persist in the art world today? Or, more generally, what role do social characteristics like gender play in markets for cultural goods, such as art? That is the focus of this research. Using a novel dataset of 255,887 contemporary artworks produced by 18,624 artists and gleaned from an online marketplace, I employ the case of gender in the art world to investigate how social characteristics of producers can impact market outcomes and structures. Although there is prominent scholarship on product markets and inequality within sociology, questions such as these are rarely posed. Work generally focuses on the quality of goods and on the status of producing organizations, without attention to individual producer characteristics, including gender.The first study of this dissertation implements machine learning classification to examine whether female and male artists produce artworks with different characteristics. These analyses rely on a taxonomy of over 1,000 art-relevant features, coded by a team of art historians, to describe the disciplines, physical attributes, styles and periods, object types, and settings of each artwork in the dataset. I find that artworks by women and men do not substantively differ on the majority of aesthetic, conceptual, or material features that they depict. While some, less common, features of art appear more in work by women or men, by in large these two groups of producers do not bring different products to the art market. Studies two and three of this dissertation move to address alternative hypotheses for disparity in the economic outcomes of women and men in the contemporary art market. With mixed effect regression, I test whether artworks by women are priced differently than artworks by men, even after accounting for the categories and features they depict. I find that art by women is listed at a discount of approximately 10 to 12 percent relative to art by men. I also find that, of those art qualities that differ in use between women and men, qualities of art predominantly made by women are valued less than those predominantly made by men, net of who creates them. In combination, these findings echo and extend calls to value the labor of women and men comparably. They also broaden our understanding of the potential for social status characteristics, like gender, to act as organizing structures in the production, meaning, and valuation of markets.






Brown, Taylor Whitten (2021). Qualities or Inequalities?: How Gender Shapes Value in the Market for Contemporary Art. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23786.


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