Saturday, February 9, 2013

Is the "Generation Gap" Fishing's Biggest Gap?

There has been a decent amount of chat lately about the supposed 'generation gap' in flyfishing. Obviously generational concerns about fishing date back a while. But in the past week or so, I believe it started with FishCampRehab's "Standing in the Generation Gap," which inspired Mike Schmidt of Anglers Choice to write "Some Thoughts from the Middle." As I said in my recent post, I thought these were thought-provoking and socially-oriented posts that both made good points. What I took from this conversation is that there is at least a sentiment among anglers that flyfishing has a cultural divide along age lines--young anglers use multimedia to document their trips, are image-conscious, and are always ready to act, whereas the old guard wants to have more meetings to talk about fishing and plan for action. Those in the middle just feel sort of hybridized by their participation in both cohort cultures.

This got me thinking about what other demographic 'gaps' we have in flyfishing and fishing in general. I dug up several yearly reports from (henceforth 'TMF'), an organization that studies fishing and boating participation in order to grow these markets (yes, they see us as markets). Given that statistical data is difficult to come across on the topic of fishing, I used these TMF reports to try to answer the question of 'gaps.'

So what does the generational spread of flyfishing look like, statistically?

Percentage of Flyfishing Participants by Age Group
For this question, I looked at the TMF age statistics for fly fishing from the 2009-2012 annual reports. I've averaged the figures for these 4 years (since they don't cover much time, nothing interesting affected fishing participation in those years, and the stats are based on samples). The results show that fly fishing is most commonly a sport of those over 45 years. Those 25 and under have the lowest share of the flyfishing population, while those 25-44 years old are--pardon the double entendre--somewhere in the middle. The difference between the oldest and youngest groups is about 20 percentage points, a gap nearly as big as the youngest group itself--in other words, there's nearly twice as many fly anglers over the age of 45 than there are under the age of 25.

[There are some problems with this portrayal that aren't my doing. Without having access to the raw data, I couldn't slice up these cohorts in a way that might match with other anglers' discussions about generation gaps.]

So what about other gaps? Is age the only numerical and cultural 'tectonic plate' in flyfishing? Well, looking at the figures for sex (gender) from the same 4 annual TMF reports, we see that women are far less likely than men to be fly anglers. In fact, the sex gap in flyfishing is bigger than in fishing on the whole (which includes flyfishing and all conventional fishing combined). When I averaged the 4 figures for women's share of the fishing population, women comprised an estimated 33% of the entire fishing population, but they were 23% of flyfishing anglers.

Percentage of Anglers that are Women, by Fishing Mode
That means that 1 in every 3 people that fish in the U.S. are women. And between 1/5 to 1/4 of fly anglers are women. This means that all fishing is disproportionately male. And of these, flyfishing is more male-dominated. Do these figures surprise you? I'll admit I was a bit surprised by both the size of the all-fishing share that women claimed and the gap between types of fishing. Regarding the all-fishing population, I did not expect women to be this populous. On the one hand, I knew they were out there, but women do not seem to be proportionately represented in mainstream fishing media (This claim requires more data to ascertain, of course. But think about how when women are present in fishing media, it's often confined to separate, female-designated areas of the medium--e.g. The Drake magazine's "Page Six Chix"). 

An interesting complication to this sex-difference story appears when we cross sex and race/ethnicity. In another report by TMF's researcher group specifically about the growing Hispanic "niche," I found that they estimated 53% of all Hispanic anglers to be women. So fishing is actually more female than male for the Hispanics in the researcher's sample. I don't think a 3% lead, if not cancelled out by the margin of error anyway, is enough to justify calling it "female-dominated," but it's certainly a differently gendered phenomenon for Hispanics than for non-Hispanic whites. Since whites are about 80% of the fishing population, the relatively low proportions of women anglers in the figures shown above are due to relatively lower participation among women in the white population.

And, of course, not all participation is equal. Not only do we not know from these reports if women spend as much time fishing per year as men, on average, we don't gain any insights into the qualitative experiences of women in fishing or the causal links between sex or race/ethnicity and fishing participation. What do these figures mean for how our fishing industry and culture operate? How are women being integrated or excluded from fishing and flyfishing culture? What are their experiences?  We should not assume that the demographic makeup of fishing or flyfishing owes itself entirely to voluntary choices or differences in taste.

(Women in Waders Calendar)   Really? They're not even waders!

There are several other explanations for women's lesser share of the fishing population. We can think about some of what we do have information on, which comes mostly from women's fishing journalism. In a previous post I mentioned that Jen Ripple's piece in A Tight Loop brought up several themes on how fishing can be an unwelcoming place for women. Women and men receive different kinds of attention when on the water  alone, where male anglers may make unsolicited advances. And until a few years ago, there were few gear options for women in important clothing items such as waders. A recent video posted by featuring April Vokey provided some interesting thoughts about how women learn to flyfish. When men try to teach their female partners how to cast and fish (which is more common than the other way around, since men are 78% of fly anglers), the result is frustration. April's success is not only due to her being a great instructor, but because she is a female third party and role model. And, as April points out, she can use different analogies with women than the male instructors can. Instruction from male anglers is often couched in analogies that relate more to men's interests (such as other sports). And if you spend any time on the many fishing forums out there, there are myriad examples of how uninviting it must feel for women looking to find a fishing community. Personally, I've watched many of these things occur with my wife, who loves to fish. These are a few examples of one explanation for women's lower participation that get away from arguments of mere choice. They show some of the exclusionary practices we engage in as (mostly male) anglers. It's something to keep in mind.

I'm not saying we're stuck here--things do seem to be changing toward inclusion. But change is always uneven and often slow. Keeping an eye on things will help us achieve whatever result it is that we want.

So is the generation gap the biggest gap in fishing? In fly fishing? Well, it depends what numbers you have and what you compare them to. Beyond the statistics, those are not answerable questions without a lot more information. But hopefully we have put some things in perspective with the information we do have. And of course, we've opened up a whole lot of new questions to be answered later, too.
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1 comment:

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