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Why do professors who are women publish less research than men? Here’s what we found.

Here’s the seventh in our series on the gender gap in political science.

The TMC Gender Gap Series (Kim Dionne)

Throughout academia, including in political science, women haven’t achieved parity with men. As this series explores, implicit bias holds women back at every stage, from the readings that professors assign to the student evaluations that influence promotions and pay, from journal publications to book awards. These political and sociological problems deserve study as much as any of the other issues the academy investigates. Here’s the seventh piece in our two-week series on the gender gap in political science — and what we can do about it. — Kim Yi Dionne

From sports to journalism to Hollywood, problems with gender equity have been making headlines. The academy has many of the same issues — which are political and sociological problems that deserve study, just like the other issues our disciplines investigate.

We investigated possible gender inequities in research publications in two social science disciplines: political science and sociology. Over the past several decades, both disciplines have increasingly seen women taking faculty positions at nearly the same rate as men. But men continue to hold the most senior spots and have more time and funding to support their research and publication. Are there gender gaps in research output and why?

In spring 2017, we surveyed nearly 1,700 political scientists and sociologists from more than 300 colleges and universities, mostly in the United States. We asked about their publications and how many articles they attempted to publish. The survey also included questions about social networks, psychological orientations, peer support and teaching.

Is there a gender gap in publication?

Our study confirms a sizable gender gap, particularly in publishing peer-reviewed journal articles. For every article women publish, we estimate men publish 1.23 articles.

We expected a larger gap in political science, since women make up 40 percent of political science faculty in our survey data but are a majority among the sociologists. But we found the opposite: The gender gap in publications is larger in sociology. In political science, men publish one more article than women every four years, while in sociology, men publish one more article than women in just under two years.

Of course, a better test of gender inequities would account for differences in academic rank. The “tenure track” in academia runs from assistant (untenured) to associate and on to full professor, while non-tenure-track professors are in temporary or multiyear assignments.

The figure below shows that when we account for rank, the gaps in political science are small and only statistically significant among associate professors and those off the tenure track. In all cases, women publish fewer journal articles but not many fewer. However, the gaps are greater (and statistically significant) in sociology across all ranks, except among assistant professors. It is particularly important that we do not observe gaps among assistant professors because of their need to publish to gain tenure.

In our draft book manuscript and in already published work — which is also available ungated — we consider a few potential explanations for these gender gaps.

1. Bias in decision-making at journals is not the likely culprit

Recently, a collection of political science journal editors audited their own data on submissions and “none found evidence of systematic gender bias in editorial decisions.” We came to the same conclusion using survey data. We asked researchers what journals they had ever submitted their work to. Based on those numbers, we estimated what the journals’ author breakdown by gender should look like if the journals were equally likely to accept women’s and men’s work. With a few exceptions, our estimates closely resemble the actual distribution in political science journals.

2. Men and women submit their research to journals at different rates

When women submit research to journals, their work is accepted as often as men’s. But women submit their work less frequently. That means the gender gap in publication comes from the submission stage, not from peer review or editorial practices.

In statistical models controlling for several factors, we find that the submission gender gap is quite close to the publication gender gap in size. Across both disciplines, men submit 1.18 articles for every one that women submit, which is quite close to the 1.23 articles that men publish for every one that women publish.

3. Gender gaps may reflect differences in incentives

Publishing matters more for tenure and promotion at some universities than others. In our overall sample, there are only 4 percent fewer women in PhD-granting programs than non-PhD granting programs — a difference that is not statistically significant. However, among PhD instructors in our sample, women tend to be in slightly lower-ranked programs.

Of course, other facets of universities may affect men and women differently. For instance, women do more committee work than men. In our data, even after accounting for differences in rank and other indicators, women still report spending more time teaching (by 8 percent) than men. Because teaching and committee work take away time from research, these differences may contribute to the gender gap in research.

4. Men’s and women’s social and psychological resources also matter

On the social side, a supportive network encourages good work habits, shares resources, provides feedback, and gives support through success and failure. We found that men and women work with others at similar rates but that co-authorship boosts the research output of men more strongly than women. Women who co-author a lot do not have many more submissions and publications than those who co-author very little. By contrast, men most likely to co-author published two more articles a year on average than men least likely to co-author.

On the psychological orientation side, we were inspired by a long line of research concluding that, in general, men have higher tolerance for risk, conflict, and disagreement. When researchers produce work for their peers to review, they risk exposing themselves to criticism. In our survey data, we find that both women and men who accept risk and tolerate conflict submit more articles. We also found women are slightly more likely to prefer less risk, conflict, and disagreement than their male peers, though the differences are not always significant.

While we focused on two social science disciplines, the concerns we found are likely to apply across the academy. Gender parity in research output is an essential part of equity in the academy. When women’s work is published and read, it has spillover effects for instruction, role modeling, and the kinds of knowledge produced. But our research suggests no simple fix to close the gaps we’ve discovered. Instead, equity will require the profession to take a hard look at mentorship and co-authorship networks, informal socialization, and teaching and service expectations.

Previously in this series:

Paul A. Djupe (@PaulDjupe) is an associate professor of political science at Denison University.

Amy Erica Smith (@amyericasmith) is an associate professor of political science and a Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Professor at Iowa State University.

Anand E. Sokhey (@AESokhey) is an associate professor of political science at The University of Colorado at Boulder.