Gender inequality in STEM publishing due to female dropout rates, says study

New research has revealed that despite a rising number of women in STEM publishing papers, there is a large gender difference due to females leaving academia.

Female and male scientists in lab

A new study examining gender disparities in STEM publishing has revealed that gender differences in academic publishing are mostly related to the rate of women leaving academia.

The study’s authors argue that this “comprehensive picture of gender inequality in academic publishing can help rephrase the conversation around the sustainability of women’s careers in academia, with important consequences for institutions and policy makers.”

…an increase in the number of women academics has increased the publishing gender-gap”

Using data from the Web of Science database, the researchers from the Network Science Institute and Department of Physics at Northeastern University, US, analysed the publication history of 1.5 million gender-identified authors who published their last article between 1955 and 2010. 

They found that women represented 12 percent of active authors in 1955, increasing to 35 percent by 2005. On average, men published approximately 13 articles during their careers, whereas women published approximately 10 articles. Another discovery revealed that male scientists received 30 percent more citations than female scientists.

The authors determined that an increase in the number of women academics has increased the publishing gender-gap, as the gradual increase in the fraction of women in STEM was accompanied by an increase in gender disparities in productivity and impact.

However, they also found that men and women publish a comparable number of articles per year and have equivalent total citations for the same total number of publications. The researchers suggest that the productivity and impact of gender differences are therefore explained by different publishing career lengths and dropout rates. 

Finding that gender differences in academic publishing are related to the number of women leaving academia, the scientists revealed that female scientists were almost 20 percent more likely than male scientists to leave academia each year throughout their careers. The leaving rate accounted for 67 percent of the gender differences in publications.

Acccording to the researchers, these findings underscore the importance of retention of female scientists at all career stages, as “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 research was published in PNAS

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