Study finds women aren’t posting less during pandemic
A new study on COVID-19-era publishing patterns by gender contradicts previous research on the topic, suggesting that women have not published less than before the pandemic, overall.
What the study calls gender inequality, however, has increased in some fields during this period of increased demands for care and quarantine, particularly in psychology, mathematics and philosophy.
“Our results do not offer the full picture,” says the study, published in the Journal of Information Science. Still, the results “clearly indicate that the COVID-19 bias in gender publication patterns is unclear.[;] the picture is complicated and calls for further study.
Seeking to verify further evidence that the productivity of women in research has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, researchers involved in the new study reviewed 266,409 articles published in 2019, 2020 and January 2021 in 2,813 journals, across 21 disciplines, assuming all authors’ genders by their first names. All items were from the Springer-Nature database.
The idea was to compare posting rates by gender in each of those three years, looking for major discrepancies between 2019, fully before the pandemic, and after. Unlike many other studies with different methodologies and different datasets showing that women have lagged behind men in terms of publication since early 2020, this study found no significant difference between the three years.
It is above everything. There were, however, significant differences in some disciplines. The largest decrease in the proportion of female authors was recorded in psychology (-74.4% between 2019 and January 2021 and 12.3% between 2020 and January 2021). The second largest drop was recorded in mathematics (down 12.9% and 17.5%, respectively), followed by philosophy (down 11.3% and 10.3%, respectively).
The authors say it is “interesting” that philosophy and mathematics are so apparently affected by COVID-19, “because these disciplines generally do not require experimental studies with human subjects, and as such should be less likely to be affected by the pandemic.” Again, a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that research delays related to COVID-19 are not only external obstacles, but also that there is no time left after teaching, service and caregiving (the if applicable) to write.
The largest increase in the female-to-male author ratio in 2021, meanwhile, was in geography (42.6% increase from 2019 and 32% increase from 2020), followed by dentistry (27 .7% and 19.8%, respectively) and energy (25% and 7%, respectively).
“The results for dentistry are particularly interesting given that medicine, in general, is a discipline with a faster time to publication,” compared to other fields, the study says.
In mathematics and psychology, the new study also identified a drop in the number of articles with women as first authors during COVID-19, as well as in the number of male articles with women as co-authors.
“These declines may suggest that in these areas a culture of gender bias is more prevalent than in others,” the study said.
Another significant observation: in disciplines where the proportion of female authors is higher, there are fewer single-author articles.
The gender of the first author appears to affect the female-to-male ratio among co-authors, the study also found. In multi-author papers with women as first authors, there was generally more gender balance among authors: the average year-to-field ratio was 0.68 when a woman was the first author and 0.40 when the first perpetrator was a man.
Co-author Dariusz Jemielniak, professor of organization and management studies at Kozminski University in Poland and associate professor at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, said that “there is a lot of misunderstandings about gender bias in academia”. And while he’s “convinced” the bias exists, Jemielniak said “relying on a stereotype of how it works is counterproductive.” We need to make policy data-driven, and it’s important to essentially observe that data rather than assuming that a perception is enough.
Jemielniak said a practical policy implication “could be to be very careful about changes to the tenure review process. My gut feeling – not based on research – is that there was probably a bias important, but it was granular. For example, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turned out that while university women weren’t as affected, mothers of young children were, very disproportionately , even compared to fathers of young children.
Limits and caveats
Jemielniak also noted that this data must continue to be collected, as results may be delayed, given the relatively slow nature of academic publication. The researchers assumed average turnaround times of about three to six months from paper submission to publication, which is clearly within the scope of the study period. But Jemielniak said it is “quite possible that the actual publication results of the lockdowns will be delayed and observable until 2023”. Additionally, he said, the study cannot account for articles that have been repeatedly rejected, delaying their eventual publication dates.
Kathleen Dolan, eminent professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and co-editor of the American Journal of Political Sciencefound very early in the pandemic – part of a much broader examination of gender patterns in AJP– that women were actually posting a bit more than usual, but were posting fewer solo-written articles.
Dolan said this week that she doesn’t necessarily support the anecdotal idea that women have been affected more than men during COVID-19, but that this new study doesn’t “address the issue in the right way.” .
Looking at journal articles in 2019, 2020, and January 2021 isn’t “enough to see any real COVID-related pattern,” she said. “In many disciplines, a paper that is submitted to Time X and ultimately accepted for publication may not go to print for two years.” In political science, for example, she continued, a full year between submission and publication would be considered “fast.”
If COVID-19 has truly harmed female scholars more in terms of lost research time, “we shouldn’t expect to see this impact until journals published in 2022 at the earliest, but more likely in 2023 and 2024.”
With that in mind, Dolan said Jemielniak’s paper “would be a great baseline” for later comparisons.
For this reason, several other studies of the gendered effects of COVID-19 among academics have examined submissions to preprint repositories, where academics share articles long before they are officially published. Cassidy Sugimoto, Tom and Marie Patton School Chair at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, co-authored such a pre-print study in May 2020 and said of Jemielniak’s article, “I would also cautious about these data representing the true extent of the data. We are still in a pandemic, and the long delays in publication distort the reality of what is happening in the lab right now.