Study Says Claims of Gender Bias in Academic Science Are Overblown

A new study by scholars at Cornell University and Boston University, concludes that gender bias in academic science is not as apparent as most people believe.

The authors note that “in the most prestigious journals and media outlets, which influence many people’s opinions about sexism, bias is frequently portrayed as an omnipresent factor limiting women’s progress in the tenure-track academy.” They set out to see if this was indeed the case.

Researchers evaluated the empirical evidence for gender bias in six key contexts in the tenure-track academy: (a) tenure-track hiring, (b) grant funding, (c) teaching ratings, (d) journal acceptances, (e) salaries, and (f) recommendation letters. They found that tenure-track women are at parity with tenure-track men in three domains (grant funding, journal acceptances, and recommendation letters) and are advantaged over men in hiring. Their data shows that for teaching ratings and salaries, there was evidence of bias against women; although gender gaps in salary were much smaller than often claimed.

The authors conclude that “given the substantial resources directed toward reducing gender bias in academic science, it is imperative to develop a clear understanding of when and where such efforts are justified and of how resources can best be directed to mitigate sexism when and where it exists. If women believe that every step of academia is biased against them, some may be reluctant to enter academia. They may instead seek industry or government jobs, which are often the location of much creative scientific work. Or women may become health professionals but not health researchers. As a result, women’s representation among the individuals training new generations will remain lower than it could and should be.”

The full study, “Exploring Gender Bias in Six Key Domains of Academic Science: An Adversarial Collaboration,” was published on the website of the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. It may be accessed here.

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