Evidence That Women’s Scholarly Production Was Slowed More Than Men During the Early Pandemic

A new study led by Angèle Gayet-Ageron, an assistant professor of health and community medicine at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, examines the rate of women’s authorship of scholarly research on COVID-19  in 11 biomedical journals following the onset of the pandemic.

Researchers examined the authorship of more than 63,000 manuscripts submitted to 11 biomedical journals between January 2018 and May 31, 2021. They analyzed the gender of first authors, corresponding authors, and the total number of women bylines in both the pre-pandemic period and in the time after the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.

The analysis found that prior to the pandemic women were 46 percent of first authors on papers submitted to these journals. Women were 37.1 percent of first authors for COVID-related manuscripts during the pandemic but only 29.4 percent of the authors during the initial six months of the global crisis. Women were 44 percent of the first authors for non-COVID-related research after the pandemic began. A similar pattern existed for last authors and corresponding authors.

The authors note that “the median percentage of female authors on the byline was lower for COVID-19 manuscripts (28.6 percent in January-May 2020) compared with pre-pandemic (36.4 percent) and non-COVID-19 pandemic manuscripts (33.3 percent in January-May 2020). Gender disparities in all prominent authorship positions and the proportion of women authors on the byline narrowed in the most recent period (February-May 2021) compared with the early pandemic period (January-May 2020) and were very similar to values observed for pre-pandemic manuscripts.”

The authors conclude that “academic promotion and awarding of research grants are heavily influenced by the publication records of candidates, and competition for prominent authorship positions (first, last, corresponding) is high. Studies of published research have already shown gender disparities, but our demonstration of even wider disparities at the submission stage during the pandemic suggests that we may observe even wider gender disparities in published research over the next few years once these manuscripts have reached publication stage. This may have important implications for career development, awarding of grant applications, and job opportunities for women.”

The full study, “Female Authorship of COVID-19 Research in Manuscripts Submitted to 11 Biomedical Journals: Cross-Sectional Study,” was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). It may be accessed here.

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