SQL Joins for estimating gender and Hollywood power

THR released a list of Most Powerful People in Entertainment. How can we analyze that as data?

Table of contents

The data

The first part of the tutorial goes over how I manually spreadsheetified the Hollywood Reporter feature, The THR 100: Hollywood Reporter's Most Powerful People in Entertainment

To do the SQL in this lesson, download the database here thr-gendered-babynames.sqlite

Checking out Hollywood Reporter's 100 Most Powerful Entertainers list

In 2016, THR put out its first power ranking of Hollywood entertainers: It's [a great read:

The THR 100: Hollywood Reporter's Most Powerful People in Entertainment


Here's their methodology – THR 100: How the Staff Put Together This Power List – though you may want to skip it until we run our SQL analysis, as to not spoil the surprise of accuracy.

Wrangling a story-list into a spreadsheet

I love lists. Lists are a great way for displaying and organizing data, and THR's feature is no different. That said, anything that can be a list can be a better spreadsheet at some point. What if there were other ways to look at this list other than a ranking of 100 to 1? What if we wanted to count number of actors vs. producers vs. CEO types, for example?

Even this straightforward narrative list can be separated into enough interesting parts to warrant a spreadsheet. Unfortunately, because this was a very narrative feature, there is no easy program that will suck up the data in this list and make it structured.

Doing things by hand

So I did it the old fashioned way: I read the entire list, and then I hand-entered it into a spreadsheet, which you can view here on Google Drive.

Here's the final version of the spreadsheet, ready to be imported into a database:


And here's how it was first entered into the spreadsheet – basically copying-and-pasting efficiently:


Tidying up narrative data

The THR feature made for a great read, but things got messy when trying to break it down to data. For example, each rank does not represent a single person. For rank 11, they stuffed 3 people – Jeff Shell, Donna Langley and Ron Meyer – and their respective titles into a single slot:


It makes editorial sense – the team of Shell, Langley, and Meyer is what makes them the 11th most powerful Hollywood entertaining force. But it causes a lot of inconveniences in data, especially with databases when we want one piece of information per cell. Here's what I ended up doing – each person gets their own line, and I split up the job titles as best I could:


When each person has their own line, there are 125 individual humans in this list. You can view it on Google Spreadsheet.

Or, you can download the SQLite database I've created, which contains this simple table of THR entertainers and also, a table of gendered babyname data. You can probably guess what comes next.

Download the database here: thr-gendered-babynames.sqlite

About the gendered_names table

Once you've download the SQLite database – thr-gendered-babynames.sqlite – you'll notice that besides the THR table, there's a table named gendered_babynames which looks like this:


It's a transformed version of the Social Security Baby Names for All States, 2015 that we've come across. The original database contains a row for male and female count of a given name in a given state:

SELECT state, year, name, sex, count 
FROM babynames 
WHERE name = "Parker" 
  AND state = "US";

Take note of how there are substantially more male Parkers than female.

state year name sex count
US 2015 Parker M 5383
US 2015 Parker F 1439

The raw baby name data has always had potential for gender-analysis use. To simplify things for SQL beginners, I've taken the liberty of aggregating/transforming the data so that names like Parker only get one row:

FROM gendered_names
WHERE name = "Parker"
  AND state = 'US';
year state name total_babies primary_sex primary_sex_ratio per_100k_in_state
2015 US Parker 6822 M 78.9 186

The original data is still (mostly) there – to calculate number of females named Parker in 2015, we multiply 6822 by (100 - 78.9).

But the main reason to have the baby name data in this simplified format is so that we can do queries like these:

SELECT name, total_babies, primary_sex, primary_sex_ratio
FROM gendered_names
WHERE total_babies >= 2000
  AND primary_sex_ratio < 70
name total_babies primary_sex primary_sex_ratio
Hayden 4415 M 61.4
Charlie 3216 M 51.7
Rowan 2781 M 64.7
River 2440 M 61.4
Amari 2035 M 66.9
Emerson 2971 F 59.9
Finley 2653 F 60.2
Dakota 2254 F 58.7
Skyler 2013 F 55.2
What are the most male-skewed names that begin and end in vowels?

(Making a crude judgment that guy names have "harsh" sounds)

SELECT name, total_babies, primary_sex_ratio
FROM gendered_names
WHERE SUBSTR(name, 1, 1) IN ('A', 'E', 'I', 'O', 'U')
  AND SUBSTR(name, -1, 1) IN ('a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u')
  AND primary_sex = 'M'
ORDER BY primary_sex_ratio DESC, total_babies DESC

As it turns out, vowelly names for boys is a popular thing outside of the traditional U.S.:

name total_babies primary_sex_ratio
Antonio 2708 100
Alejandro 2303 100
Emiliano 1660 100
Eduardo 1440 100
Andre 1310 100
Angelo 1200 100
Emilio 1182 100
Enzo 1039 100
Armando 749 100
Eli 741 100

OK, now that we have an idea of what's in the THR table and what's in gendered_names, let's put the two together for a quick analysis of THR's list.

Gender analysis of THR's Powerful Entertainers

The THR 100 is new this year, but THR has traditionally done separate 100 lists, including favorite films, lawyers, and women in entertainment

No longer pitting women vs. women

Last year, THR decided to stop doing a separate Entertainment Power 100 List for women, and wrote a great essay explaining their thoughts:

And yet today, in legend and reality, women fight for position on these lists in ways that don't always make them, or us, comfortable. THR's Power 100 list, by its nature, pits the town's most impressive females against one another. I can't help but think of a telling passage I read from Lansing's upcoming biography that describes her ascension in an era when men felt there was room for just one alpha woman at a time at the studios.

I've come to believe that something as simple as our ranked women's lists contributes to keeping that sense alive, that we accidentally created a beauty pageant of brains where only one woman gets crowned. Some women have publicly cried upon seeing their rankings. That is funny to some people. But it's depressing as hell to me.

In their methodology, THR admits that it's not exactly about hard numbers:

For some, power is the ability to get a green light. Others say it's the ability to give a green light. Access to gigantic sums of money was a part of the equation, as were fame (turning heads when you enter a restaurant is practically a primal form of alpha-ism) and smarts (information is power). The key criterion was influence in the transactional machinery of day-to-day Hollywood. Boiled down, the simplest test of determining the differential between people became this: Whose phone call would you return first? Not because you like them but because your financial future and career just might, might, be altered by the time you hung up?

As one metric for whether or not the THR 100 reflects rankings, THR has a nice chart ranking the THR 100 by how much ink they received:


But what about THR's desire to recognize the influence and power of women entertainers? Was that reflected in the THR 100. What metric would we use to decide that?

Well, the best metrics are sometimes the simplest: let's just count how many women are on the list.

Joining gender to THR names

The THR 100 list is short enough. But with SQL, we can actually do this calculation in mere seconds. How?

By connecting the gender-of-name data found in the gendered_names table to each name in the thr_power_list table.

Let's review what thr_power_list contains: names, ranks, and job info

FROM thr_power_list
FROM thr_power_list
rank full_name first_name last_name occupation company
1 Bob Iger Bob Iger Chairman and CEO Walt Disney Co.
2 James Murdoch James Murdoch CEO 21st Century Fox
2 Lachlan Murdoch Lachlan Murdoch Executive chairman 21st Century Fox
2 Rupert Murdoch Rupert Murdoch Executive chairman 21st Century Fox
3 Leslie Moonves Leslie Moonves President and CEO CBS Corp.
4 Steve Burke Steve Burke CEO NBC Universal
5 Ted Sarandos Ted Sarandos Chief content officer Netflix
6 Sumner Redstone Sumner Redstone President, national amusements, and vice chair, Viacom and CBS Boards
6 Shari Redstone Shari Redstone Chairman emeritus Viacom and CBS Corp.
7 Jeff Bewkes Jeff Bewkes Chairman and CEO Time Warner

Pretend we we knew nothing about typical American names, such as the traditional gender for people named Bob, James, Lachlan, and Leslie.

How would we find the gender-ratio for each of these names, using just the database that we have?

Just do a simple SELECT/WHERE on gendered_names for each of the first_name values in thr_power_list, and tally up the males and females:

SELECT name, primary_sex, primary_sex_ratio, total_babies 
FROM gendered_names
WHERE name = 'Bob';

(wow, only 14 babes named Bob in the entire U.S. for 2015?)

name primary_sex primary_sex_ratio total_babies
Bob M 100 14
SELECT name, primary_sex, primary_sex_ratio, total_babies 
FROM gendered_names
WHERE name = 'Leslie';

This is where our data is wrong. For a more robust gender detector, we should be using data from past decades, back when Leslie was still a common male name, like Leslie Nielsen and, in this case, Leslie Moonves. Alas, our gendered_names data only includes 2015 data, and apparently, Leslie is now almost exclusively a female name:

name primary_sex primary_sex_ratio total_babies
Leslie F 94.2 930

Let's JOIN

OK, now that we've got the idea, let's see how the JOIN clause can make our analysis so much quicker (the accuracy problem will have to be dealt with later).

Start with the non-JOIN SQL we know

Let's start with what we know we want and what we know we can do, at the very least: getting a list of first names from thr_power_list:

SELECT first_name
FROM thr_power_list;

Which looks like this:


Given the above table, let's now think (but not overthink) about the very next data point we need to count the genders of this list.

Matching sex/gender to name

To count the genders-by-name in this list, we need to know what gender each name is. Even if we don't know how to get to this result, at least we know we need this result:

first_name primary_sex
Chris M
Jason M
Robert M
Emma F

primary_sex – the column that states whether a given name is mostly-male or mostly-female based on baby count – is in the gendered_names table.

To get the results table we want, it would seem we would have to join the two tables, thr_power_list and gendered_names.

The JOIN syntax

OK, finally, getting to the point of writing JOIN in a SQL query:

Starting with the answer

The section goes down a rabbit hole of what happens when you misunderstand the JOIN concept and/or syntax. It's important to go down this rabbit hole. But let's not miss the big picture or what best practice is.

So, if this is the result we want and need (and it is) to count up gender per name in the THR list:

first_name primary_sex
Chris M
Jason M
Robert M
Emma F

This is the SQL JOIN statement we write:

SELECT thr_power_list.first_name,
  gendered_names ON
    thr_power_list.first_name = gendered_names.name;

Run the query in your own database. See if you can figure out what's needed to get an aggregate count of males and females…

Otherwise, back to exploring JOIN, slowly and painfully:

The FROM part of a JOIN

A JOIN involves joining two tables. That first table comes from the FROM clause:

SELECT first_name
FROM thr_power_list;

The JOIN part of a JOIN

To include a second table, we use the JOIN keyword – it comes after the FROM clause, and we give it a table name, i.e. the second table we want to join:

Note – do not run this query. Nothing will go wrong, per se, but it may take a very long time:

SELECT first_name
FROM thr_power_list
JOIN gendered_names;

Always write INNER JOIN instead of just JOIN

Second thing I want to note: even though JOIN by itself defaults to a INNER JOIN operation, I believe it is best practice to always write out INNER JOIN and will do so for every lesson and example going forward. It's just one more word for a lot more clarity:

SELECT first_name
FROM thr_power_list
INNER JOIN gendered_names;

The INNER JOIN is just cosmetic. Don't run the above query unless you want to tie up your computer.

Blowing things up when joining without a condition

Let's take a step back, why is the previous SQL query so bad?

First of all, it won't be an error because it's perfectly good SQL. And the database engine will just run it. Unfortunately, running this type of query – a JOIN without an ON conditiona – can be extremely computationally expensive.

The illogical WHERE

The closest analogy I can think of is when we write a WHERE clause, but give it a boolean expression that is always true (or false)

FROM mytable

1 is considered a truthy value, all the time, so this query retrieves all the rows and columns from mytable, just as if we wrote:

FROM mytable;

So what's the point of that WHERE, except to confuse everyone who reads the code? Or, more likely, it's a human-created error, but one that doesn't cause the query to crash with an error response.

So going back to the bad JOIN query:

SELECT first_name
FROM thr_power_list
INNER JOIN gendered_names;

We need to give it an ON clause with a boolean expression. This boolean expression tells the interpreter:

If this ON condition is true for a row in thr_power_list, and another row in gendered_names, then the results should contain a row consisting of the two rows JOINED together.

Specifically, in the example below, the ON condition tests if a given row in thr_power_list has a first_name equal to a given row in gendered_names. If true, then the result set will have a row consisting of the two joined rows.

Try it out:

SELECT first_name
    gendered_names.name = thr_power_list.first_name;

Think of ON as almost the same usage as WHERE, except we never use WHERE inside a JOIN clause. WHERE belongs where it does, later in the query, outside of the JOIN.

Note: I like adding extra return lines and indentation to emphasize that two tables are being accessed:

– which feels a lot like WHERE except that we just never use WHERE, the keyword

– has a similar logic flaw. We almost always want to JOIN based on a conditional statement, just like we almost always use WHERE to filter out results.

In the situation of WHERE, when there isn't a real conditional clause/test on how to filter/reject results from a query, the database engine will return all ows in a result.

In the situation of JOIN, when we omit the conditional clause/test, the database engine will proceed to JOIN the two tables in the most broadly, brute way possible.

People and suits example

It's easier to show using a small example:


name size
Dan M
Bobbi XL
Ted L


color size
Red S
Green M
Pink L
Blue XL

I want to join people and suits, so that each person row is associated with a corresponding suit row. How do we match people with suits? With size. A proper join query would look like this:

FROM  people
  ON people.size = suits.size;

And the result, everyone gets a suit (notice how size from both tables is repeated, thanks to my lazy use of *):

name size color size
Dan M Green M
Bobbi XL Blue XL
Ted L Pink L

Blowing up the JOIN

OK, what does a bad JOIN and ON condition look like? How about when ON is always False?

FROM  people
  ON 1 = 2;

The result: 0 rows. But nothing too crazy happened.

Let's do the JOIN that I warned about: a JOIN with no ON condition, and thus, a JOIN that will mash up every combination of row:

FROM  people
INNER JOIN  suits;

The result is a non-sensical table with as many rows as multiplying people by suits. Because that's basically what happened:

name size color size
Dan M Red S
Dan M Green M
Dan M Pink L
Dan M Blue XL
Bobbi XL Red S
Bobbi XL Green M
Bobbi XL Pink L
Bobbi XL Blue XL
Ted L Red S
Ted L Green M
Ted L Pink L
Ted L Blue XL

Analyzing the THR list with SQL and INNER JOIN

That was enough off meandering over syntax-details. Let's get to the real work: using a JOIN to quickly count the male and female entrants to THR's Top 100 Most Powerful in Hollywood.

Returning to an earlier query:

SELECT thr_power_list.first_name,
  gendered_names ON
    thr_power_list.first_name = gendered_names.name;

And breaking it down:

  1. Specify the 2 columns we want, first_name and primary_sex
  2. Specify the first table to select FROM: thr_power_list
  3. Specify the second table to JOIN wit: gendered_names
  4. For that join, specify the condition that a row from gendered_names joins with a row from thr_power_list (when first_name is equal to name)

Joining sex to THR's list of names

And here are the results of that join query – looks like a lot of guys in the first dozen:

first_name primary_sex
Chris M
Jason M
Robert M
Neal M
Brian M
Alejandro M
Scott M
Kevin M
Aaron M
David M
Doug M
Amy F
Thomas M
Mary F
Zack M
Jamie F

Doing a GROUP BY aggregate count to sum up males vs females

Joins add a seemingly significant amount of syntax and cognitive load – though it's worth it for what they do. However, once you get used to seeing them, you'll realize that all of the other things you've learned still do what they used to, and JOINs are just another piece.

Case in point, how do we get a count by gender for the THR list? Just add a GROUP BY and aggregate function:

SELECT gendered_names.primary_sex, 
  COUNT(*) AS the_count
  gendered_names ON
    thr_power_list.first_name = gendered_names.name
GROUP BY gendered_names.primary_sex
ORDER BY the_count DESC; 
primary_sex the_count
M 99
F 19

How close were we? According to Hollywood Reporter's methodology, we were pretty much on the dot:

And lastly, yes, we know that a lot of this list is white guys. We won't need social media, thanks anyway, to drop an anvil on our heads to realize this. Out of the 124 names on the list (due to some shared groupings), there are only 19 women and 10 people of color (six African-Americans, two Asians, two Latinos). I'd like to think we cover the issues of gender and diversity that plague Hollywood with a critical eye and will continue to. And I hope and expect that one day in the near future this list has a wholly improved and reflective composition.

…though obviously some of that was luck. And I'm not sure why we ended up with 128 people instead of 124, but we can clear out some of the hiccups (usually dealing with GROUP BY) at another point.