In recent years, it is becoming more evident that there is gender inequality in research and science. society has undervalued the contribution of women to science. This undervaluing of women in science has occurred throughout history and continues in some forms today.
As a scientific author, it is one’s personal choice to decide which other authors they will be citing or giving credit to within their study. Unfortunately, there is a citation gap, where publications cite male and female researchers at different rates.1 This may be seen as a form of gender inequality. As a result, the influence of women is being held back in the scientific community.
The citation gap between male and female authors
A new study published in Nature Physics journal explores how citation practices may be gendered in physics.1 This study analyzed over one million academic articles published in physics journals over the past 25 years. The analysis was to predict citation rates among male and female authors.1
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found a global bias. This bias was that scientific papers written by women are under-cited compared to publications by men.1 In particular, research papers by men tend to be overly cited by other male authors. Often, these authors may be less familiar with the subject at hand.1
Overall, it is challenging to pinpoint why the citation gap between male and female researchers persists. Authors of the study published in Nature Physics suggest many factors influence citation behaviour, including
- personal biases of the author who is citing other papers,
- the gender of the author who is citing other papers,
- the publishing journal and its representation of male and female authors,
- the familiarity of authors with the papers they are citing,
- and the length of a paper’s reference list1
Other areas of gender inequality in academia
There is a gap between the number of male and female researchers in the scientific community. Since this gap has decreased, the impression is that soon we will have equal representation of men and women in research.3
However, a recent study using modeling to predict when the gender gap will close showed many research specialties will not achieve gender equality within this century.3 Clearly, as the current number of female authors is lacking, more needs to be done to promote equity and equality in science.
There also exists a gender pay gap in scientific writing. According to a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, female authors earn approximately 5-6% less than male authors.2
This gender pay gap persists today, despite there being no evidence that the quality of research conducted by women is lower than that of men.2 Moreover, statistics also show that women are less frequently published in prestigious journals than men.2
Another form of gender inequity relates to corresponding authors in publication. A corresponding author is in charge of communicating with journals on behalf of their research team.
Approximately 30% of corresponding authors are female. This low percentage indicates that women in science may have limited opportunities to advance their academic careers.2 In physics and astronomy research, the proportion of corresponding female authors is as low as 15%.2
Next steps to tackle gender inequality in research
Women are outperforming men in undergraduate science courses while being perceived as less capable of success.4 This evidence indicates that stereotypes exist.
These stereotypes can affect women’s recognition in science and discourage women from pursuing scientific careers.4 Social change is needed to dispel the myths, empower women, and highlight the achievements of women in science.
Some researchers have been taking the initiative to add citation diversity statements to the end of their manuscripts. Such statements highlight the importance of diversity in citations.5
As more authors commit to improving gender equity in science, the citation gap between men and women will decline. However, further advocacy is needed to change institutional policies to increase the participation, citations, and wages of women in research.
- Teich EG, Kim JZ, Lynn CW, et al. Citation inequity and gendered citation practices in contemporary physics. Night Phys 2022 1810. 2021;18(10):1161-1170. doi:10.1038/s41567-022-01770-1
- Data – OECD. It’s time to close the gender gap in research. Published 2019. Accessed November 5, 2022. https://www.oecd.org/gender/data/women-are-well-represented-in-health-and-long-term-care-professions-but-often-in -jobs-with-poor-working-conditions.htm
- Holman L, Stuart-Fox D, Hauser CE. The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented? PLoS Biol. 2018;16(4):e2004956. doi:10.1371/JOURNAL.PBIO.2004956
- Bloodhart B, Balgopal MM, Casper AMA, Sample McMeeking LB, Fischer E V. Outperforming yet undervalued: Undergraduate women in STEM. PLoS One. 2020;15(6):e0234685. doi:10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0234685
- Zurn P, Bassett DS, Rust NC. The citation diversity statement: A practice of transparency, a way of life. Trends Cogn Sci. 2020;24(9):669-672. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2020.06.009