‘Women economists held to higher standards than men’

Two papers at the Royal Economic Society conference look at bias against female economists when it comes to publishing in top journals, a key factor for career progression.


Articles written by male economists are cited less than articles published by women in the same journals, a new study on gender and quality in economics finds,  suggesting that women are held to higher standards than men.

The authors of the paper, which is being presented at the Royal Economic Society 2021 annual conference this week also find that men’s citations rise when they co-author with women and that women’s citations fall while they co-author with men.

Although women make up 20–30% of academic economists, they are only 11% of all authors published in top-five journals since 1990, 12% since 2000 and 14% since 2010.

The researchers, Erin Hengel and Eunyoung Moon from the University of Liverpool, looked gender differences in citations conditional on acceptance to a top-five journal. They consistently found that female-authored papers are cited more than male-authored papers, conditional on publication in a top economics journal. The estimates of the size of this gap range between 12–25 log points.

The authors next analysed how citations change as the same economist co-authors with members of the opposite sex. They found that both men’s and women’s citations rise when they collaborate with women, conditional on acceptance to a top-ranked journal.

Finally, the researchers restricted their sample to senior male economists with at least two top-five papers co-authored with a single junior author of each sex. Again, they found that a senior male author’s work was more highly cited when it was co-authored with a woman.

The result, say the researchers, is women being tenured and promoted at lower rates than they otherwise would be and,  to the extent that grant committees similarly rely on applicants’ past publication histories to choose between projects, women having a harder time funding future work.

The researchers say: “We hope journals are challenged to address the tougher standards they likely impose on women, willing to support the access and research needed to better understand them and open to whatever policy options most effectively check them.”

Another paper from the conference suggests that, while conference presentation of economic research is positively related to the likelihood of publication in high-quality journals, conference papers written by male authors experience a higher likelihood of being published in top journals than those by women.

The study by researchers including Tho Pham, a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Reading, attempts to quantify the contribution of conference participation to publication outcomes and other metrics of academic success and aims to identify whether conferences have differential implications for male versus female researchers.

They found that major conference presentation is related to an increase of 14.7 percentage points in publication probability and in publication in high quality journals – but only for men.

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