Gender gap in article submissions rose early in pandemic – study

New analysis of journal data suggests gap was largest for junior researchers and those in health disciplines 

October 21, 2021
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Men increased their submission of article manuscripts to journals in the first few months of the pandemic more than women, especially those working as junior researchers or in health disciplines, a major new study has confirmed.

Analysing new article data from more than 2,300 journals, a group of researchers based across Europe found that the Covid crisis sparked a 30 per cent increase in submissions between February and May 2020 compared with the year before, with a 63 per cent increase in health and medicine.

However, when they analysed the increase in individual submissions by authors in 2020 compared with the average number of manuscripts submitted in 2018 and 2019, the study found firm evidence of a gender gap.

Further, “when considering differences in age and areas of research”, the researchers found that this gap was higher for academics in the earlier part of their careers and in health and medicine.

“This suggests that the pandemic could have exacerbated existing inequalities by imposing additional obstacles in terms of time and effort investment by women just as the demand for research was growing unprecedentedly,” the paper, published in Plos One, suggests.

They also found, after using Google data to control for the severity of lockdowns across different countries, that this could be “possibly explained by a major shift in family schedules and routines caused by the pandemic due to interference of homeschooling and more intense family duties”.

The study is not the first to find evidence that Covid lockdowns, and the accompanying juggling of childcare and work commitments, may have hampered female researchers’ publishing activity.

However, other studies have tended to use data on preprints or final publications, not article submissions to journals. The researchers in the present study gained access to a large dataset on submissions through an agreement with Elsevier.

They also used the same dataset to analyse how likely women were to accept invitations to review articles compared with men during the initial stages of the pandemic.

The data suggest that for most academic fields, similar proportions of women and men accepted invitations to review manuscripts, but this was not the case for health and medicine disciplines, where women were less likely to take up offers to review papers.

“This would suggest that they were less capable of influencing the type of research that was published. This raises concern over the quality of peer review under increasing editorial pressures during the pandemic, which would require an entire follow-up study,” the paper says.

The article’s authors were Flaminio Squazzoni of the University of Milan; Giangiacomo Bravo of Linnaeus University; Francisco Grimaldo and Daniel García-Costa of the University of Valencia; Mike Farjam of Lund University; and Bahar Mehmani of Elsevier.

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