Skip to main content

Gender analysis of Science authors

When I started as editor-in-chief in July 2016, I was pleased to learn that the editorial team were working on a project to examine the gender distribution among individuals who published and submitted papers to Science. This project was initiated by our executive editor and our team of deputy editors with the help of two interns, Georgina Carter and Erica Vinson. I am grateful for their initiative and their efforts on this project.

The project focused on Research Reports, Research Articles, and Reviews published in 2015. The primary goal was to compare the percentages of women among individuals whose papers were published compared with those from papers that were submitted during the same period but were not selected for publication. A major challenge in performing these analyses is determining the gender of the authors in question because such data are not collected as part of the submission process. The genders of authors were assigned through individual Internet searches.

The project focused on the authors in the first position and the last position in each author list. The individuals who were listed first and last in the author list were classified (again, based on Internet searches) as to whether they appeared to be in established positions (faculty or similar positions), hereafter referred to as “senior authors,” or if they were graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, or in similar temporary roles, hereafter referred to as “junior authors.” For the purposes of this analysis, senior authors in the first or last position were included, as were junior authors in the first position. Using this approach, 862 senior authors and 471 junior authors were identified and used in the subsequent analysis.

For comparison, a group of manuscripts from 2015 were randomly chosen from those that had not been selected for publication, to match the balance of Research Reports, Research Articles, and Reviews in the published set. The genders and levels of seniority were determined through Internet searches as described, resulting in 883 senior authors and 434 junior authors for use in subsequent analysis.

Among the published papers, 24.8% (117 out of 471) of the junior authors were women. In the comparison group of manuscripts that were not selected for publication, 30.0% (130 out of 434) of the junior authors were women. Although this suggests a trend disfavoring women authors, the difference has a p value of 0.086, larger than p = 0.05.

For the published papers, 16.8% (145 out of 862) of the senior authors were women, while in the comparison group, the proportion was 14.7% (130 out of 883). Any trend favors women authors, although the difference is quite modest, with a p value of 0.237.

These data can be divided into three components corresponding to Research Reports (a total of 987 authors in the published paper group and 963 authors in the comparison group), Research Articles (228 authors in the published paper group and 206 authors in the comparison group), and Reviews (118 authors in the published paper group and 148 authors in the control group). In each of these sets, the same trends are observed as for the authors overall. The results are summarized below:

This preliminary study reveals two major sets of findings. First, as discussed above, the data do not reveal that the review and editorial processes at Science introduce substantial gender disparities. Second, the percentages of women among authors submitting to and published in Science are relatively low, ~27% for junior authors and 16% for senior authors. To put these values in context, I examined data from the United States National Science Foundation regarding the percentages of women in faculty positions and enrolled in graduate school. In 2010, the percentages of women in all faculty positions were 21% in the physical sciences, 42% in the life sciences, and 39% in the social sciences, whereas the percentages of women in senior faculty positions (associate professor and above) were 16% in the physical sciences, 34% in the life sciences, and 33% in the social sciences. In 2011, the percentages of women enrolled in graduate school were 33% in the physical sciences, 57% in the biological sciences, and 60% in the social sciences.

For papers submitted to Science, we estimate that ~40% are in the physical sciences, 55% are in the biological sciences, and 5% are in the social sciences. Using these as weighting factors, the anticipated percentage of women in all faculty positions submitting to Science would be (0.40)(21%) + (0.55)(42%) + 0.05(39%) = 33%. Similarly, for women in senior faculty positions, the anticipated percentage of women is 27% and the anticipated percentage of women among graduate students is 47%. In all cases, the percentages of women who submitted to Science are lower than these estimates. The estimates certainly could be inaccurate given that they are based on many assumptions that could influence the results, including assumptions about career stage, the use of data from the United States only despite the international authorship of Science, differences in the institutions in the general and authorship pools, and so on. Refinement of these estimates may reveal the sources of some aspects of the gender disparity, which could help guide additional analyses and, eventually, policy suggestions.