Friday, May 31, 2013

Bronies in the Mist pt II - Age & Gender Distribution of Bronies

The first thing I wanted to know as I began to beat a path through the Bronyverse was simple: Who are these guys?  Well, there’s no better way to get an answer than to ask a question, so I posted a (poorly designed) survey on the My LittlePony: Friendship is Magic Brony Forums.  In this post I’ll address the two most basic facets of Brony demography – gender and age.
The survey received 49 responses – not nearly the number that I’d hoped for.  At the time of this writing, the membership of the MLP Forum is reported to be 12,753, excluding myself. 1  This means my sampling size was a paltry 0.38% of the community and is therefore hardly representative.  Nonetheless we shall plunge boldly forward, keeping always in mind that our conclusions must necessarily be tenuous in light of our small pool of responses.

Colts & Fillies – The Brony Gender Gap
In a testament to  my nigh infinite foresight, gender was not a question on the initial survey; it simply did not occur to me that there would be female members of a forum for Bronies.  (Here we see my own preconceptions at work already – hardly promising.)  It was only after the fact that I chose to gather this data, and to accomplish this I used the publically available user profiles of the forum users who responded to the survey.  From this, we see that in 49 respondents we have 41 males, 5 females, and 3 who declined to specify a gender. (See Fig. 1)

Fig 1. - Respondents by Sex.  (n=49)

As you can see from the graph, respondents were approx. 84% male.  Although the sampling size is small, the disproportionate representation of males here is nonetheless interesting.  While I was unable to find data on average gender breakdown of internet message boards, I was able to find a recent Pew study2 of overall social media use which indicated that women  are actually somewhat more likely to make use of social media websites than men.  Granted, the Pew studied focused on specific websites such as Facebook and Pinterest and so is only of limited use to us as we compare it to the demographics of a single specialized fan forum, but it still drives homes the striking gender disparity among the Brony survey respondents.

When we add to all this the fact that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is specifically targeted at female viewers, it becomes rather more puzzling that the users of a forum dedicated to the show are preponderantly male.  Perhaps it’s the case that there aren’t more female users of this particular forum because it is specifically known as a Brony forum and females interested in discussing the show assume, as I did, that it is intended solely for male fans.3  I would be curious to know if there are more female users on other MLP forums elsewhere on the internet, but that’s a question for another day.  (At this point it may be worth noting that there does not appear to be an “official” MLP forum anywhere - I looked for one to see if perhaps the  more "traditional" fans of the show are congregated there. There is an official My Little Pony website however, which offers among other things a fetching printable iron-on image of the character Rainbow Dash for free download.Of course, it may also be the case that females are simply underrepresented in the sample because of the small pool of respondents.4

Looking a Gift Brony in the Mouth – Age Distribution of the Sample

All 49 respondents provided an answer to the survey question “How old are you?”  Of these, 47 responded with a numerical age, while two responded with ranges (for example, “early 20s”).  I attempted to privately contact (via the forum’s personal message feature) both of the respondents who gave age ranges to request clarification – one responded with an exact age; the other did not respond.  Many of the responses did, however, have qualifications or addenda such as stating that the respondent would be “turning 22 in a few weeks”.  In these cases, I used the current age of the respondent at the time of survey, not the projected age.

Fig. 2 - Respondents: Adults vs. Minors (n=49)
As can be seen in Fig. 2 above, approx. 59% of survey respondents were adults aged 18 or older.  The lone respondent with a non-specific age is included in this statistic, as they reported  being in their “late 20s”.  I was surprised to see that 41% of the respondents were minors, given the online reputation of Bronies as an older group that remains fairly distinct from younger fans.

Using only responses supplying a numerical age (n=48), we see a strikingly large range in reported ages of some 31 years; the youngest respondents being 13 and the eldest being 44.  The mean age of all respondents was 19.875 – still within the range of my expectations but assuredly at the lower end.  The mean age of female respondents (n=5) was 18, lower than the mean age of males(n=40), 19.8.5  However, as we’ll see below, the mean age doesn’t tell the whole story.

Fig 3- Age Distribution of Respondents (n=48)
(Click for larger image)

Looking at Fig. 4, it becomes apparent that the ages of survey respondents largely cluster around the mid-teens to early twenties.  85.42% of all respondents reporting a specific numerical (n=48) are under the age of 25 and 64.58% are under 21.  The mode of all reported numerical ages (n=48) was 14 years. 

Rather than consisting almost entirely of adult males, we see then that this sampling of Bronies is composed largely of teens and young adults.  It appears from the survey data that the mean age of the group is pushed upwards by a handful of significantly older respondents who may be outliers.  A much larger sample size would be highly desirable in order to search more definitively for  patterns of age distribution and to minimize the possible effects of sampling bias; e.g. younger forum users might be more likely than older ones to take a random survey on a message board.
To sum up this section, I have to say I was surprised by the demographics of the sample.  I had not expected females to be present at all, so their appearance as even a small percentage of the sample caught me off guard.  It was the age distribution, however, that surprised me the most, as Bronies are typically portrayed online as adult men, when in fact we see that a significant portion of them are in their mid to late teens.

So far I've had my preconceptions of Bronies challenged on both of the subjects I've attempted to measure. That's already pretty exciting and we're still just getting started.  Please join me next time as we discuss the portrayal of Bronies across the web and talk to Bronies themselves about the bad rap they get online.
1.) This is according to a running counter of registered users on the front page of the site.  It was not possible for me to determine how many of these users are currently active in the forum on a regular basis.

2.) Duggan, Maeve and Brenner, Joanna; The Demographics of Social Media Users – 2012.

3.) I have since learned that adult female MLP fans who associate closely with Bronies are sometimes called “Pegasisters”.  Equine wordplay is in abundance in the My Little Pony community.

4.) I hasten to remind readers once again that these statistics are not meant represent the demographics of My Little Pony fans as whole, merely the demographics of this particular internet forum of self-described Bronies and Pegasisters.

5.) Savvy readers will note that the mean ages of males and females are lower than the total mean – This is because the three “gender unspecified” respondents were aged towards the higher end of the range.

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