New research: More than half of young players in German orchestras are women

Today’s annual statement of the German orchestral association (DOV) shows a continued pattern of gentle decline.

The number of orchs is 131, down from 168 in 1992.

The number of jobs is down 20 percent from 12,159 in 1992 to the present 9,825.

However, chamge can also mean progress. Some 30 percent of orch seats are now occupied by women. Even more encouraging, of young orchestral musicians aged 25 to 30 the proportion of women is now just over 50 percent.

The future is bright. The future is female.

(Don’t tell them in Vienna.)



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  • Good news indeed about the 25-30 age group. Below is a link to a graph that charts the number of orchestra closings by year since the unification of Germany. As the graph shows, the large majority of the closing were in East Germany. In an attempt to show the superiority of the communist system, East Germany had indeed created redundant orchestras. And once the wall was removed there were also some orchestras so close together that mergers made sense. This helps explain why one in every five positions in orchestras was eliminated and why the orchestral world was not able to mount an effective opposition. On the other hand, it is also true that not all the closings were justifiable. Sometimes orchestras were closed to help pay the massive costs of reunification. Here’s the chart which is very informative:

  • “The future is bright. The future is female.”

    No, the future is bright when it doesn’t matter so much anymore if someone is a boy or a girl, when it matters more just how good she or he is at what she or he does.

    I don’t think the decline in the number of orchestras and jobs in orchestras in general is directly related to the increasing ratio of women in German orchestras. The former is a reaction to the economic troubles of our time and the latter a reflection of how society as a whole evolves. Actually, I think the decline in the total number of jobs worked against the trend of more women as a lot of those jobs could have been taken by women at some point if they hadn’t disappeared. In that case, I think the ratio of women in German orchestras would probably be even better.

  • Word on the street is that a big reason that percentages of women are increasing in orchestras world wide is because orchestras are in trouble and it’s less feasible to make a living as a full time orchestra player now. Men are choosing more stable, higher paying careers.

    Orchestra jobs are going more to women who traditionally don’t have to support a family or who are content with lesser wages. This also happened during WW2, when men were away at war. Their jobs were filled in orchestras by women.

    • That sounds really deep and sociological and historical and all that – but it has nothing to do with the situation of orchestral musicians, male or female, in the German orchestras described in this report.

      Those are all full-time, year-round, vacation time and health and retirements and all other benefits included jobs.

      And they are generally quite well paid, enough to make a decent living from. Or really well paid if they are in one of the bigger orchestras. By which I don’t just mean those in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, Dresden etc. There are several dozen of what they call category A orchestras.

      Or really, really well paid if they are in one of the so-called top orchestras.

    • Some truth and sanity in this comment. But ability and opportunity to play at a professional level does not evolve at adult decision age. The foundation to evolve into an orchestra string player for instance is laid before the age of ten or never. So the question arises, why so few boys these days play a string instrument. The overwhelming majority of kids playing the violin are girls today. Anybody has an explanation? Are boys disadvantaged? Do we need to support boys more in giving their gender role more meaning and perspective?

    • You make some important points, Maria. The stats clearly show that across the international community, the lower the pay of an orchestra the higher the ratio of women personnel. And even when orchestras have better pay, but are in less desirable areas like the Ruhrgebiet of Germany, the ratio of women increases. The personnel in lower paid orchestras in the Ruhrgebiet has often been over 50% for the last 20 years. By contrast, women represent only 14% of the Berlin Phil’s personnel.

      Many regional orchestras in the USA, even though they serve large populations, often pay so poorly that musicians can only play in them if they are being supported by their spouses.

      There are some interesting sociological studies that show that when the presence of women is increased in institutions, the image of the institution as a whole loses status. Numerous examples were given, including the US Supreme Court, if I remember right.

      When the topic of women’s rights arises in this forum, there are often ugly and false comments by anonymous men and men using false names. Forgive me if I ignore them.

      • Now the completely unbiased and logical conclusion from your findings would be:

        Men statistically compete more successful when it comes to top jobs with top pay in the respective field. Of course there are many factors always, but that seems to be the most logical conclusion and the strongest causality in any of the involved factors. Now let’s see what the ideologists have to say, to be expected.

          • Well, IMO the orchestras with high women percentage you name, are not as excellent as Berlin Phil and Vienna, so it doesn’t really counter my argument.

            Cultural factors are also at work, always. There will be more women in the string sections and elsewhere, also in Berlin and Vienna, no doubt.

            For me the more interesting question is, why boys – two generations later than above numbers – are not interested in playing string instruments, particularly the violin, anymore.

          • Theodore McGuiver says:

            January 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm

            “@William – You’ve just replied to someone who didn’t provide certifiable proof of their identity. I’m not sure I can forgive you for that.”

            @Theodore – you’ve just replied to William Osborne without certifiable proof of your identity. I am not sure I can forgive you for that! :-0

        • william osborne says:

          January 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

          “And even when orchestras have better pay, but are in less desirable areas like the Ruhrgebiet of Germany, the ratio of women increases. The personnel in lower paid orchestras in the Ruhrgebiet has often been over 50% for the last 20 years. By contrast, women represent only 14% of the Berlin Phil’s personnel.”

          Who says the Ruhrgebiet is a “less desirable area” to live in? I have a lot of friends who live there and who like it there. It is the most densely populated area of Germany and that also means there are a lot of cultural offerings there. In some areas, you can easily find more than a dozen of orchestras, opera houses and theaters within a 1-1.5h radius.

          That also means there are more orchestras concentrated there than in most if not all other areas of Germany (except for Berlin, I guess). Big orchestras, small orchestras – so you can pick and choose pretty randomly whichever one(s) fit(s) the profile you want to see.

          Also, to name just one example, the NDR Sinfonieorchester in Hamburg has a comparatively high ratio of female players (about 35% or so, although I only did a quick and rough count on their website), certainly high in comparison to the cited BP or WP, and that is one of the most highly regarded orchestras in Germany, one of the best paid, too, and Hamburg, being the second largest city in Germany with a very lively cultural landscape, is hardly a “less desirable area” to live in – on the contrary.

          • And, just to avoid misunderstandings, Hamburg is of course not in the Ruhrgebiet. But that only underlines the fact that orchestras with a high female ratio are not only found in “less desirable areas” in Germany, be it the Ruhrgebiet or anywhere else.

            In fact, in the general area in which William himself lives and which is an area which many do consider a particularly nice area to live in, it certainly is one of the most expensive areas in Germany, the major orchestras there all have pretty high female ratios, too – Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Staatsorchester Stuttgart. Te last one, the orchestra of the opera in Stuttgart, seems to have around 40% or even more women – and that’s a very well paid orchestra, too.

          • NDR SO is a good orchestra. But not the most competitive to get in, at least BP and WP are more competitive, Gewandhaus, Dresden Kapelle, BR SO are more competitive. And some other Radio orchestras are at least as competitive if. But the Radio orchestras traditionally enjoy great working conditions, relatively good pay for few duty hours etc.

            Which makes them more attractive for women. So we are back at the point, where the most competitive jobs have been going to men more than women, while women statistically are more attracted to the more comfortable opportunity.

      • william osborne says:

        January 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

        “There are some interesting sociological studies that show that when the presence of women is increased in institutions, the image of the institution as a whole loses status.

        william osborne says:

        January 30, 2014 at 11:46 am

        “The NY Phil, Zurich State Opera, and the National Orchestra of France all have over 40% women.”

        And those are all institutions which do not enjoy a very high status?

  • What?

    Women in orchestras?

    Good heavens, they’ll be playing cricket next.

    Oh, hang on – I believe they do (with more success than us men, if one can believe what we read in the papers!)

  • The reasons are not only economical, as correctly noted by Maria Antonia above here, but cultural too. And popular culture delivers its message to boys very early – through their parents, through other people in their lives, and, most insistently and apparently convincingly, i.e. effectively, through increasingly omnipresent media. The point is not that certain orchestras are struggling while others are not, but that the prevailing (and perfectly reasonable) opinion in those families that want their sons to succeed in life is that 99.99% of musicians will never become as “successful” as people in several other professions. Therefore, cultural prestige of being a professional classical musician is declining and boys are not being steered in that direction, and sometimes in fact are being actively steered away from it. Which means that the increasing number of women in orchestras can be explained not only by rising status of women in society, but, perhaps to a larger degree, by declining status of classical music. It is sad, but that’s the way it is, at least here in the US. It seems to me that most other countries are moving in the same unfortunate direction, albeit at different speeds.

    • That, and the declining vertical social mobility. Classical music was an important asset, even if you were not to become a professional in it, to teach your children in order to have better opportunities on the job market, in networking etc. Many professional musicians in the 20th century are from lower social backgrounds and made their way up through the music profession. Today you have a situation, where many pros have comfortable middle class lives and don’t want their own children to follow in the profession, because the future prospects are not as good.

      Also today you find the CEOs and bosses increasingly at the pop concert, musical or sports event, rather than at the opera and in the concert hall.

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