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Has COVID-19 increased the gender gap in academic publishing?


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Estimated publication output of women was lower than that of men following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The gender gap was largest for productive scientists working in clinical medicine and biology.

High publication productivity is essential for furthering careers in academia. Gender disparity in publication output is a notable problem, with women traditionally publishing fewer articles than men on average. The reasons for this are multifactorial and vary by career stage, discipline, and country. Until recently, the gender gap in publication productivity was slowly diminishing; however, new evidence indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed this trend.

Recent meta-research from Dr Emil Bargmann Madsen and colleagues, published in eLife, quantified the impact of COVID-19 on the publishing rates of women and men. Using individual-level panel data on a global sample of more than 2 million publications from over 430,000 authors, the researchers found the following:

  • The estimated output of women was 17% and 24% lower than that of men in 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (post-pandemic), respectively.
  • The widening gender gap post-pandemic was evident for both early- and mid-career scientists, with the largest relative change in the former group.
  • The increase in the gender gap was most pronounced among highly productive scientists working in clinical medicine and biology.
  • Women continued to first-author publications at similar rates as in previous years, indicating a decrease in productivity rather than a shift in author roles.

The authors offer several reasons for the apparent increase in gender disparity following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, men with highest productivity may have been rewarded with access to additional workplace support, cushioning them against the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, high-achieving women scientists may have been more likely than men to allow their partner’s careers to take priority during the difficult months, which could have driven some of the differences observed.

“ The publication productivity of already prolific women scientists has been affected the most by the pandemic.”

Overall, the widening gender gap in publishing rates in the post-pandemic era is concerning, because it reflects an underlying disparity in the opportunity to succeed in science that is exacerbated by external factors. The authors call for universities, funding agencies, and policy makers to allocate resources and support to mitigate inequities resulting from the unequal disruption caused by the pandemic.

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What do you think – is further support needed for female scientists to decrease gender disparity in academic publishing?

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