Why a wider science research gender gap

Despite many more women researching science since the ‘50s, gender differences in productivity and impact increased but it’s not because women publish less work, with lower impact.  So, what gives?

Four researchers from US, Chinese and Danish institutions found out by reconstructing the publishing history of 1.5 million gender-identified authors working in 13 disciplines and 83 countries between 1955 – 2010.

Junming Huang, Alexander J. Gates, Roberta Sinatra and Albert-Laszl o Barabasi, state that, “to our knowledge, our efforts constitute the most extensive attempt to date to quantify the gender gap in STEM publications and citations, offering a longitudinal, career-wise perspective across national and disciplinary boundaries.”

They find, “the gender gap in total productivity rose from near 10% in the 1950s, to a strong bias towards male productivity (35% gap) in the 2000s. The gender gap in total impact actually switches from slightly more female impact in the 1950s to a 34% gap favouring male authors in the same time frame.

It occurred, they argue, because of gender-based, “differences in dropout rates and career-length,” which, “explain a large portion of the reported career-wise differences in productivity and impact.”

They claim that each year an average 9.0% of male scientists stopped publishing over the study time-frame, compared to 10.8% of women.

“In other words, each year women scientists have a 19.5% higher risk to leave academia than male scientists, giving male authors a major cumulative advantage over time. Moreover, this observation demonstrates that the dropout gap is not limited to junior researchers, but persists at similar rates throughout scientific careers.”

The authors don’t comment on why women have shorter publish careers but they do point to its policy implications;

“It is often argued that in order to reduce the gender gap, the scientific community must make efforts to nurture junior female researchers. We find, however, that the academic system is losing women at a higher rate at every stage of their careers, suggesting that focusing on junior scientists alone may not be sufficient to reduce the observed career-wise gender imbalance. The cumulative impact of this career-wide effect dramatically increases the gender disparity for senior mentors in academia, perpetuating the cycle of lower retention and advancement of female faculty.”


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