Women are significantly less likely than men to be credited as authors on scientific publications, a new study published in Nature has found. The US-based research suggests that women’s scientific work tends to go ignored or unappreciated.
The study examined administrative data, including job titles and grants, from 9,778 research teams across 36 US universities from 2013 to 2016. These data were matched to authorship on scientific journal articles and patents. The final dataset included 128,859 individuals, 39,426 journal articles and 7,675 patents.
Although women represented over 48% of the scientific workforce within the dataset, they comprised less than 35% of the authors – a significant underrepresentation. Women were also less likely than their male colleagues to be named on patents.
More impactful scientific papers – those that were cited by other scientists in the field – showed a more pronounced gender gap. For example, women were almost 20% less likely than men to be named on an article with 25 citations when controlling for scientific field, career position and team size.
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While some of this gap can be attributed to the fact that women in science tend to be employed in more junior positions than men, women in each career position (research staff, postdocs and faculty) were still significantly less likely to receive authorship than expected based on their representation within research teams.
To further understand these patterns, the research team surveyed a sample of 871 scientists about their experiences with authorship. Among the respondents, approximately 43% of women and 38% of men stated that they had been excluded from authorship on a paper they had contributed to.
The most common reported reason for exclusion, cited by approximately 49% of women and 39% of men, was that the individual’s scientific contributions were underestimated by others. Women were significantly more likely than men to report that they had been excluded from authorship due to bias or discrimination.
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The results suggest a nuanced interpretation of previous findings that women scientists tend to publish less than male colleagues.
“Some of the well-documented ‘productivity’ gap may not be a gap in the contribution of women to science at all, but rather a gap in how much their contributions are recognised,” the study authors write.
“While we focus here on gender, these gaps were also reported in our survey for other marginalised groups,” they add.
As the data were drawn only from research-intensive universities in the US, more research would clarify whether these patterns apply more widely.
Matilda is a science writer at Cosmos. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from the University of Adelaide.
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