The ‘gender gap in citations’: how female authors lose out

Study offers further insight into the persistent trend for women to be cited less frequently than men

August 15, 2018
Source: Alamy

Research into the gendered citation patterns of academics has confirmed what many will have long suspected – that male authors tend to cite other men over women in their article bibliographies. But such underlying biases can apply even in a journal with a majority of female authors, and may spread to papers co-authored by women with men, the work suggests.

Analysing every article published across three political science journals and three social science methodology journals between 2007 and the end of 2016, researchers from McMaster University in Canada and the universities of Iowa and Minnesota matched up the gender of the authors to the gender of the researchers who produced each study cited in their bibliographies, using the analytical tool genderizeR.

In this way, they were able to determine the “gender gap in citations” in articles by women and men, as well as those co-authored by women and men.

The goal of the project, according to Sara Mitchell, professor of political methodology at Iowa and co-author of “Gendered citation patterns across political science and social science methodology fields”, published in Political Analysis, was to analyse how the overall representation of women in a research field influences the gender citation gap.

Comparisons were also made between different subject disciplines to determine whether a higher representation of women in one area might help to close the gender gap in citation practices.

“The least surprising aspect of our findings was the confirmation of our earlier analyses showing a gender gap in citations, with men citing work by men significantly more often than work by women,” Professor Mitchell told Times Higher Education.

But although the proportion of women working within the social sciences had increased notably in the decade analysed, the group found “no indication of a trend” towards women being cited more often.

Even when the researchers focused on the citation patterns for the journal Politics and Gender, in which more than 75 per cent of the total published articles were authored by women, a gender citation gap was observed.

“It was surprising to us that male authors cited women’s work at a rate of 14 per cent lower than their female peers in [these] journals,” Professor Mitchell said.

But more surprising, she added, was that when women co-authored with men, their articles adopted similar citation practices, failing to cite women as often. Women working on their own or with other women were significantly more likely to cite work by women.

“Even in a journal with a majority of female authors like P&G [Politics and Gender], the gap between female authors (82 per cent) and female references (61 per cent [of citations in that journal being to female authors]) is fairly large,” the paper concludes. “Given the gender dynamics we see when pairing author to reference citations, this suggests that most of the citation gap is driven by men and mixed author teams underciting work by women rather than women overciting work by other female scholars.”

Although the under-representation of women in some fields will play a factor in the number of times they are cited, Professor Mitchell said, “implicit biases may influence citation practices by scholars in the social sciences”.

“Even though female scholars represent a higher percentage of scholars in these fields today than in the past, women’s research is still less likely to be cited than their male peers’ research. This has important implications for tenure and promotion cases, salaries, awards, invitations to give talks [and so on],” she warned.

But there is good news: the findings have already influenced one journal, International Studies Review, to start analysing the percentage of women cited in its papers, giving authors 100 extra words to explain any citation gap.

“The development of new tools to calculate gender balance can be useful for checking gender representation in journal article bibliographies and syllabi,” said Professor Mitchell. “We [also] note that the gap gets smaller as more women enter a field, so mentoring programmes for female scholars can help to recruit and retain more women in research fields.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

Its an interesting finding. I wonder if it is true however across the board. Three political science journals and three social science methodology journals is a rather limited range of journals on which to splash a big headline about gender biased citations. I personally have zero clue what the gender of the person(s) authoring the articles I cite are. I just cite any article that supports the statement I am making. So this cannot be a conscious or even an unconscious bias. If it happens in my field (biomedicine) therefore I'd be very surprised.