At some point in the past, most academics were attracted to a vision of merit-based scholarly advancement, in which meticulous analysis and peer review would filter out hidden biases and quality research would rise into view. In practice, we learn that other factors are often at play, including personal relationships, informal networks, and the prestige of the institution sponsoring a particular scholar. Even more disheartening, such non-meritocratic forces at times combine to generate patterns of bias based on gender. Many academics imagine — or hope — that such gender-based differences are disappearing. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be true in political science.
In a recent study, we examined how winning scholarly awards expands a particular political science book’s influence on further scholarship. While doing our research, we found that such awards more often go to male authors than to female authors. What’s more, award-winning books by men are cited more often than award-winning books by women. We’ll explain below.
Here's how we did our research
Our study examined the degree to which award-winning books in political science are subsequently cited by the scholarly community, a common (although not the only) measure of scholarly impact. We collected citation counts for all 609 “best book” awards named by organized sections of the American Political Science Association (APSA) since 1985, when the first prize was awarded, through 2016. This also allowed us to see what kinds of books and authors actually end up winning awards.
Among other things, we learned that while women make up 37.1 percent of APSA members, they win only 22.7 percent of the “best book” awards presented by all organized APSA sections. Further, they receive only 25 percent of the awards that go to books by one or more authors of the same gender. The percentage of awards going to books written by women has risen dramatically over time: Female authors won 12 percent of the awards given from 1985 to 2000, but almost 30 percent between 2001 and 2016. However, even now, women authors receive a smaller proportion of the awards than their proportion of APSA members might predict. Just as significantly, women’s award-winning books receive fewer scholarly citations than men’s award-winning volumes — and this disparity has grown, rather than shrunk, in recent years. Over the entire period, APSA award-winning volumes by women averaged 43 percent fewer citations per year than those by male authors. The relatively small number of award-winning books by women from 1985 to 2000 actually averaged about 14 percent more citations per year than male-authored award winners. But since 2001, male-authored award-winning books receive more than twice as many citations as award-winning books by women.
In sum, not only are women underrepresented as authors of award-winning scholarship in political science — their award-winning books also garner far less subsequent scholarly attention than those written by men.
Do other factors affect the “citation gap”?
Of course, one reason a specific award-winning book may receive less subsequent attention is because it is not as significant as another. But it is important to remember that all of these books have won their categories’ awards in some year. Why might men’s award winners — on average — receive twice as much attention as women’s award winners?
To understand that, our analysis included other factors which allow us to add context. We found larger gender disparities in citations in particular subfields of political science, such as political theory. Men who wrote political theory monographs averaged 153 citations compared with 47 for women. Male-female differences in average yearly citation counts were higher for less prestigious (non-top-ten) publishers than for top-rank ranked presses. The number of citations averaged 94 for men but only 42 for women who published with less prestigious presses, as compared with 71 male citations and 45 female citations for volumes published by a top-ten press. That’s also true for awards sponsored by APSA specialty sections with larger memberships, which means that more colleagues in the same area of expertise would be inclined to cite the scholarly works of their peers. In other words, we see this “citation gap” throughout our data.
Why does this matter?
This gap affects more than just who advances and who does not within political science. The conclusions and discussions that political scientists have within our departments, conferences, and peer-reviewed journals spill outward, influencing public discussion and policy decisions in the larger world. It’s not easy to move from being an academic political scientist to a celebrated scholar to a public intellectual. Receiving a prestigious award within the profession can begin to launch the scholarly reputation that pushes someone’s ideas outward. Publishers highlight book awards in their marketing; award-winning books are almost always reviewed in the scholarly journals and sometimes in popular book review venues. Similarly, citations and discussions of a particular scholar’s ideas influence whether those scholarly insights flow beyond the academy into public and policy discourse.
If the patterns persist, women in political science may be held back in making the leap from academia to public thinkers whose work reaches not the profession but also journalists, reporters, policymakers, and the general public. And if only a small subset of voices are reaching that larger marketplace of ideas, then public policy is impoverished.
Previously in this series:
- There’s a gender gap in political science. Our series examines the problem — and looks at some solutions.
- Students rate male instructors more highly than female instructors. We tried to counter that bias.
- Political science professors assign fewer readings by women than by men. Here’s why that matters.
Raymond Tatalovich is professor emeritus of political science at Loyola University Chicago. He has published widely in the areas of morality policy and economic policy.
John Frendreis is professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago. His teaching and scholarship is in political behavior, economic policy, and research methodology.