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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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Blind orchestra auditions better for women, study finds

Efforts to conceal the identities of musicians auditioning for spots in symphony orchestras significantly boost the chances of women to succeed, a new study co-authored by a Princeton University economist suggests.

Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have "smaller techniques," are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras, and some European orchestras do not hire women at all. Proving discrimination in hiring practices, however, has been difficult.

The study by Cecilia Rouse, an associate professor in Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the economics department; and Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University, seems to confirm the existence of sex-biased hiring by major symphony orchestras and illustrates the value of blind auditions, which have been adopted by most American symphonies. Their report is published in the September-November issue of the American Economic Review.

"This country's top symphony orchestras have long been alleged to discriminate against women, and others, in hiring," Rouse said. "Our research suggests both that there has been differential treatment of women and that blind auditions go a long way towards resolving the problem."

Florence Nelson, director of symphonic services at the American Federation of Musicians, described the research as a "very important statement."

Using data from audition records, the researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman's ultimate selection is increased several fold, although the competition is extremely difficult and the chance of success still low.

As a result, blind auditions have had a significant impact on the face of symphony orchestras. About 10 percent of orchestra members were female around 1970, compared to about 35 percent in the mid-1990s. Rouse and Goldin attribute about 30 percent of this gain to the advent of blind auditions.

"Screens have been a very important part of the whole audition process," Nelson said. "My sense is that blind auditions have made a tremendous difference in the amount of hiring discrimination women face."

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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