Word embeddings quantify 100 years of gender and ethnic stereotypes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Apr 17;115(16):E3635-E3644. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1720347115. Epub 2018 Apr 3.


Word embeddings are a powerful machine-learning framework that represents each English word by a vector. The geometric relationship between these vectors captures meaningful semantic relationships between the corresponding words. In this paper, we develop a framework to demonstrate how the temporal dynamics of the embedding helps to quantify changes in stereotypes and attitudes toward women and ethnic minorities in the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States. We integrate word embeddings trained on 100 y of text data with the US Census to show that changes in the embedding track closely with demographic and occupation shifts over time. The embedding captures societal shifts-e.g., the women's movement in the 1960s and Asian immigration into the United States-and also illuminates how specific adjectives and occupations became more closely associated with certain populations over time. Our framework for temporal analysis of word embedding opens up a fruitful intersection between machine learning and quantitative social science.

Keywords: ethnic stereotypes; gender stereotypes; word embedding.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Language / history*
  • Machine Learning*
  • Male
  • Minority Groups
  • Newspapers as Topic
  • Occupations
  • Racism / history*
  • Religion
  • Sexism / history*
  • Social Change
  • Stereotyping*
  • United States