A new study published in the journal Nature has found that in the majority of disciplines, women produce fewer scientific articles than do their male counterparts. This is the case in most countries, with the exception of Lithuania, Ukraine, Macedonia and Turkmenistan. Moreover, fewer female academics are involved in international research projects, and their articles are cited less often, even when they are the lead author.
“These findings show that there is systemic gender bias in the scientific world,” says Vincent Larivière, a professor at Université de Montréal’s School of Library and Information Sciences and lead author of the study. His report is published in this week’s issue of Nature.
To arrive at these conclusions, the names of 27 million authors of 5.4 million articles published between 2008 and 2012 were analyzed. “Starting in 2008, the Web of Science database, which has indexed all scientific articles published since 1900, started recording the authors’ first names rather than just their initials. This has allowed us to determine the sex of most of these researchers and thus establish the position of women in each discipline, by country,” said Dr. Larivière. His research was supported by researchers at Université du Québec à Montréal’s Science and Technology Observatory and at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Larivière and his team found that, everywhere in the world, there are fewer women than men scientists, except in a handful of countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. “This may be attributable to their past communist regime, a system in which men and women were seen more or less as equals,” he noted.
Overall, gender equality was apparent in fewer than 10 percent of countries. In North America, a number of provinces and states have achieved near-parity between the sexes, including Quebec, Oregon and Washington. A similar trend is taking place in Brazil, Argentina and France, whereas Saudi Arabia, Iran and North African countries continue to be the worst places to try to break through as a woman academic.
By discipline, women researchers appear to have the upper hand in health-related fields, including nursing, geriatrics, nutrition, social work, education, the study of eating disorders and speech therapy. Men dominate in all other disciplines, from mathematics and engineering to philosophy and theatre. And although women have created a more extensive cooperative network at the national level than have their male counterparts, the same cannot be said with respect to the international stage.
According to Dr. Larivière, the most disappointing results are related to the impact of women on the world of science. “Regardless of whether they are lead author, last author or sole author, or whether they are part of a national or international initiative, women are consistently cited less often than men, and this is true in almost every country,” he said.
Dr. Larivière and his colleagues wanted to report on the status of women researchers around the world without delving into the causes of these disparities. “It’s all very complex and would require an in-depth qualitative analysis,” he said. “For the time being, we can simply say that the policies aimed at promoting the advancement of women in science have not produced the desired results. A real transformation will only take place once we’ve taken into account the various social, economic and political forces at play in the countries where these researchers work.”
“Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science,” by Vincent Larivière, Chaoqun Ni, Yves Gingras, Blaise Cronin & Cassidy R. Sugimoto. Nature, 11 December 2013., vol. 504, issue 7479.