The boffins over at the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP) have just released a summary of some new research on fandoms.
This is the first tranche of results following a Canadian government grant to research and compare fandom groups. The intent of the work is to explore similarities and differences between fandoms, with the aim to understand underlying relationships: in effect, what makes different fandom groups tick.
It's difficult to draw definitive conclusions from survey results geared towards general fact-finding rather than specific analysis. However there is good evidence that shows that the furry experience is different from that experienced by other fandom groups. We are different—furry is arguably not a fandom at all—and the data illustrates that.
The data compares what, at first blush, looks like an unlikely threesome of disparate groups: furry, anime, and fantasy sports fans. The dataset is enormous, so Dr Courtney Plante (aka Nuka, and occasional contributor to [adjective][species]) has kept it simple by presenting relatively straightforward results without detailed statistical analysis. (Figures from his analysis appear here with his permission.)
It's still a lot of data. My review here is really only scratching the surface. There is a lot to be uncovered in the IARP writeup, which I encourage you to read in full: https://sites.google.com/site/animeresearch/iarp-2014-3-fandom-survey-results.
There are four samples in all: furries (all attendees of Anthrocon 2014), online anime fans (recruited via anime websites and fora), anime convention-goers (A-Kon 2014), and online fantasy sports fans (recruited online via Mechanical Turk).
The best point of comparison for the furry group is probably the anime convention-goers, as the other two samples were collected online. Conventions have a barrier to entry, and so both these samples exclude fans who either don't choose to socialise in person at conventions, or otherwise aren't able to travel and attend.
(In general, convention-goers tend to be older, more affluent, and more socially motivated than the same fandom group measured online. This generalization is borne out by the IARP results, by comparing the data from convention-going furries with online data collected by [adjective][species] and the IARP, and by comparing the convention-going and online anime sample sets.)
Looking at the overall demographics, the convention-going furries and anime fans show a range of fairly predictable similarities and differences. Ages are similar:
There is a big difference if you look at biological sex: furries are very male, whereas the anime fans are fairly evenly split.
As expected, there are big differences in sexual orientation. Previous surveys have shown that heterosexual furs are less likely to attend conventions than non-heterosexual furs*, and that's what we see here. Less than a quarter of Anthrocon attendees are straight.
The variety of sexual orientations (and non-cisgender people) at Anthrocon are probably the biggest reason why furs are more likely to be in non-traditional relationships.
Conclusion: furries are an interesting and varied bunch.
Curiously, there is one area where the anime fans are a lot more diverse: ethnicity. Furries at Anthrocon are much more likely to identify as "white", almost 90%.
The difference here probably comes down to affluence. Anthrocon is a destination event, and so predominately attracts those people who have the means to travel. In the United States, affluent people are largely white people: of the top 10% of earners, 87% are white (ref) compared with 63% in the general population (ref). While the implied cause-and-effect connection here is a bit shaky, it's probably reasonable to conclude that furries who are able to afford to travel are more likely to be white.
A-Kon, on the other hand, is held in Dallas. Anime conventions are more common than furry conventions, and therefore tend to attract a more local crowd (because they have a bigger fandom to draw upon). Dallas is just 51% white, and thus can be expected to attract a more ethnically diverse group.
Curiously, neither furries nor anime fans measured particularly highly (compared with sports fans) on 'nerdiness'. The nerd scale shown here is assesses the extent to which people identify with various aspects of the stereotype of being a nerd.
The key differences between convention-going furries and anime fans comes down the level ad type of engagement with our respective communities. Furries own very little fandom content:
And the content that furries do own is much more likely to be pornographic:
The content owned by anime fans is predominately art created by companies and studios for fan consumption. This is the foundation of fandom, and it is not surprising to see such high levels of ownership among anime fans.
The content owned by furries is different. We are much less engaged with content created for mass consumption by profit-driven ousiders, and much more likely to be engaged with furry on a personal level. Dr Plante noted that the pornographic content owned by furries was "nearly always in the form of drawn artwork, often portraying one’s own fursona and/or other characters/fursonas".
Furries are engaged with art and other content created within the furry community. We are self-sustaining, and we exist regardless of mass-produced content intended to engage a fandom audience. That's not to say that we aren't furry fans, more that fandom is only a part of the wider furry experience.
For those furries who have visited furry conventions as well as fandom conventions (anime or sci-fi, say): consider the respective focus on hype and marketing for things that are for sale.
A furry convention is likely to focus on community-produced activities, like pawpet shows, fursuit games and charity drives—whereas a fandom convention is more likely to be anchored by the attendance of people famous for creating popular (and profitable) art for fandom consumption (and currency).
I'll add that this isn't black-or-white. There are profit-driven enterprises existing in the furry universe, just as there is fan-created content in anime and other fandoms. It's the relative proportions that are different, and it is this that separates furry from fandoms, including the fandom that furry once was.
Furries are more likely to be motivated to participate in the community for belonging, and a feeling of self-esteem. These differences are caused by furry's focus on communal and introspective aspects, where furry can become an important element of personal identity.
Not surprisingly, this means that furries tend to identify with the furry community more than anime fans identity with their fandom group.
This is, I think, data that clearly suggests how and why furry deviates from other fandoms. Dr Plante sums it up better than I can:
"Psychologists are beginning to recognize that there is a difference between fanship – identifying as a fan of something, and fandom – identifying as a member of a fan community. It is possible, for example, to be a fan of a particular television show (fanship), but to have little to no interest in interacting with other fans of the show (fandom)."
It's the furry community that makes and defines furry. These results support other research performed by the IARP, which illustrated the importance of the furry community for identity development and social support. Or, to put it another way, introspection and friendship.
There is a lot of other fascinating data presented in the IARP summary. Highlights include an insights into furry personality, life satisfaction, and propensity for depression. I urge you to read the whole thing: https://sites.google.com/site/animeresearch/iarp-2014-3-fandom-survey-results.
* This reference updated on 11-Nov-14. Comment is based on comparison of Furry Survey data (collected 100% online) with IARP data (collected 45% at conventions; 55% online). Homosexuality on Furry Survey: 22%; IARP 29%.