A Persistent Gender Gap in Authorship of Papers Published in Key Scientific Journals

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington finds that women still make up a small fraction of all authors or papers published in prestigious scientific journals. The authors examined nearly 167,000 research articles that were published in 15 leading journals between 2015 and 2017.

The research found that fewer than 25 percent of Nature research articles listed women as the first author — usually the junior scientist who led the research. Among last authors — typically the senior laboratory leader — just over 15 percent were women. Nature’s top-tier competitor, Science, had similarly low numbers of women authors.

The research also showed that over a 12-year period ending in 2017, the percentage of female authors across these journals showed little improvement: less than 1 percent annually, with many journals showing no increase at all.

The paper notes that the percentage of authors of published papers in these journals is often significantly lower than the percentage of women who win major grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“These research grants are awarded based on significance, impact and productivity,” notes Ione Fine, a professor of psychology and a co-author of the study. “We shouldn’t see this huge discrepancy between NIH funding and last authorship in high impact journals.”

Dr. Fine added that “it’s ridiculous to think bias isn’t at play in these very elite journals. There are glass ceilings in technology, in politics, in business. It’s very hard not to believe that this is not just another glass ceiling. These journals make a lot of money and wield a huge amount of power. Finding a way to fix this problem is the least they can do. They are under the same legal obligations to avoid discrimination as other businesses.”

Dr. Fine is a graduate of the University of Oxford in England. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Rochester in New York.

The study, “Persistent Underrepresentation of Women’s Science in High Profile Journals,” was published online it may be accessed here.

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