Scientific papers published by female authors are read by a larger proportion of students and early career researchers than those published by men, according to a study into the wider impact of research beyond citation counts.
Analysis of more than 1.3 million articles in 100 fields published by authors from five different countries found that, for the sample year of 2014, female-authored pieces attracted up to 6 per cent more student readers than articles by men.
For the study, “Does female-authored research have more educational impact than male-authored research? Evidence from Mendeley”, published in the Journal of Altmetrics, Mike Thelwall, professor of data science at the University of Wolverhampton, compared average citation counts using Elsevier’s Scopus bibliometric database, and also reader counts between male and female first-authored articles using the reference management tool Mendeley.
While previous studies have suggested that male authors are more frequently cited overall, taking into account the 100 largest specialist subjects (narrow fields with at least 50 male- and at least 50 female-authored articles), Professor Thelwall found that, for three of the countries studied, women received slightly more citations (0.4 per cent more in Spain, 0.4 per cent in the UK and 0.2 per cent in the US).
Female-authored research was substantially less cited in India and Turkey (by 4 per cent and 3.6 per cent, respectively).
Taking into account Mendeley readership data, however, female-authored pieces were found to have wider readership in all countries except India: in Spain (by 1.4 per cent), Turkey (1.1 per cent), the UK (2.7 per cent) and the US (3 per cent).
Female researchers’ work was more actively used by undergraduate, master’s and PhD students in their day-to-day learning, suggesting that citation-based evaluations “may undervalue the wider impact of female researchers”, the report concludes.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Thelwall said that the findings showed that early career scientists and female researchers in particular should look beyond citation counts for evidence of their work’s impact.
He added that the results might also reflect the possibility that women are consciously choosing to specialise in more niche subjects, with some social psychology research suggested that “females are more socialised to value careers with wider societal benefits”. If this was indeed the case, their work would be more likely to provide useful learning material for the wider student readership.