The game show scene

Julia Collins continues her ‘Jeopardy!’ reign

 <span class="cutline_leadin">winningest woman:</span> Julia Collins with ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek.
winningest woman: Julia Collins with ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek.

Jeopardy! contestant Julia Collins is making news this month for being the most successful woman in the game’s history, currently at 10 wins and counting. Only three players have won more: Arthur Chu, who had 11 wins this year; Dave Madden, who won 19 games in 2005; and, of course, Ken Jennings, the current record holder with his 74-game win streak in 2004.

Collins will try to extend her streak on Monday, after two weeks off for the show’s “Battle of the Decades” tournament.

How have women fared compared with men in the game’s history overall? Is there a gender pay gap in winnings similar to the pay gap seen in the workforce? For answers I turned to, a fan site that maintains records of almost every episode that’s aired in the Alex Trebek era of the show. I scraped the site for the winners and winnings of each show for the past 10 years. I ran the names through to determine the likely gender of each winner. After tossing out records with names showing a gender certainty of less than 85 percent, and records that the scraper couldn’t parse due to irregularities on the j-archive site, I ended up with a sample of a little more than 1,800 Jeopardy! matches. The conclusion: Women are winning more often than they used to.

In 2004, 14 percent of winners were female. But so far this year, women are winning more than 50 percent of the time. Aside from Collins, contestants Sandie Baker and Sarah McNitt have also gone on five-plus game winning streaks this season. The historical disparity between male and female win frequencies can partially be explained by the fact that women are less likely to appear on Jeopardy! in general. Only 40 percent of contestants are female, according to a recent Slate analysis.

There’s also been some speculation that Jeopardy! questions are biased toward men. Seven out of nine of the show’s writers are male, as are four of the five researchers.

The statistics also show that, this year, female champions are winning 89 cents on the dollar compared to men. This gender pay gap — measured in terms of average winnings per game — is slightly smaller than the gap in the general labor force, where women earn 84 cents on the male dollar, according to Pew Research Center estimates. In recent years the Jeopardy! gap has been as small as a few cents, and in 2012 women and men achieved complete pay parity.

Roger Craig’s average winnings per game of $38,367 is still the highest among champions who have won more than five games in their career. Larissa Kelly has the second-highest average earnings, at $37,100. Collins is in the bottom-middle of the champion pack on that measure with her average of about $22,000 per game.

Overall, Jeopardy! is becoming a more equal playing field between men and women. As girls continue to outperform boys in school, and women continue to graduate from college at higher rates than men, I’d expect this trend to continue in the coming years.

Christopher Ingraham

Washington Post Service

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