Women in political science don’t publish in the top journals nearly as much as men. While women make up 40 percent of graduate students and 37 percent of tenure-track faculty, they account for only 20 percent of the bylines in political science’s top three peer-reviewed journals.
Two years ago, Kathy Thelen (then the president of the American Political Science Association) and I published a paper documenting women’s underrepresentation in top political science journals. Was this evidence of gender discrimination on the part of editors and/or peer reviewers?
To address this question, a political science journal invited editors of five other political science journals to examine data on the editorial pipeline, asking whether female-written papers are (for example) rejected at higher rates. The resulting symposium revealed that this is not the case. The rate at which papers are rejected and the average scores that peer reviewers gave to papers are similar for male- and female-authored research.
The introduction to the symposium declared that none of the papers “found evidence of systematic gender bias in editorial decisions.” And the then-editors of the flagship journal in the discipline, the American Political Science Review (APSR), struck a similarly confident tone, concluding that the problem is “a systematically low submission rate of female authors … rather than biases within the editorial process itself.”
There are several explanations for the so-called gender submission gap.
The first has to do with perceptions of editorial preferences. Consider a journal whose editor prefers articles that use statistical analyses. Political scientists who don’t use statistical analyses (and instead analyze, for example, qualitative interviews) might not submit their work to that journal. In our paper, Thelen and I showed that the more statistically oriented a journal’s publications, the lower the proportion of female authors.
The second explanation has to do with expectations of gender bias. Women might submit less frequently to top journals because they don’t expect their work to be accepted. If, for example, women expect reviewers and editors to hold women to a higher standard, they would rationally submit only the very best work to top journals or take longer to revise papers before submitting them.
Both ideas about fit and fears of discrimination probably account for part of the gender submission gap.
And then there’s the political economy of gender in academia.
But a third explanation, which I outline in a recent article, has to do with the political economy of gender in academia. Put simply, women may submit less than men because they have fewer resources to spend and less time to allocate to research. There are three reasons that resources might constrain women’s publication potential.
First, within the academy, female faculty (and faculty of color) are assigned and expected to do more academic service work than men. Women are more likely to be asked to serve on lower status and time-intensive committee work and are less likely to be found in the types of positions (like center directors, department chairs and university administrators) that provide breaks from teaching. What is more, women may be reluctant to say no to requests for service, especially if they think they will be penalized for not participating. High demands for women’s service and the cultural pressure for women to be likable undoubtedly crowd out women’s research time.
Third and finally, women get less of universities’ research funds. Grants are more likely to be awarded to men; office and lab space is more ample for men; and university-awarded research budgets (an area where research is sorely needed) are probably more lavish for men. Having less access to research money means that it is harder to outsource rote tasks to paid assistants, making it hard to conduct the types of cutting-edge work that makes it into journals. Large-scale field experiments, or survey experiments of nationally representative samples that are replicated in multiple contexts, may be out of reach if the accounts are small.
By paying women less than their male counterparts, by providing less access to research money, and by systematically shifting less prestigious service onto cheaper female laborers, academic institutions invest more money in their male scholars. These forces allow men to produce much more than women.
Until the playing field is level, it does not make sense to expect women to publish as much as men. The submission gap is not a puzzle. It’s about the economics of the system.
Previously in this series: