Monday, January 9, 2017

Gender, Co-Authors, and Attributions about Contribution

It's not very often that a researcher who publishes an article solo decides to call that out with a footnote reading "This paper is intentionally solo authored." Why did Harvard University PhD student Heather Sarsons call this out? Because her study examines gender and co-authorship among economics faculty members seeking tenure. Women are less likely to be tenured in economics departments, and Sarsons wanted to find out why that might be. It turns out that having co-authored articles on one's CV has differential impacts on tenure decisions, depending on the gender of the author as well as the gender or his/her co-authors:
To determine the impact of co-authorship, Sarsons tracked all of economics professors who came up for tenure between 1985 and 2014 at 30 top universities, all places that stress tenure candidates' research credentials. She considered various factors to control for paper and journal quality through such measures as citation indexes.

Her findings:
  • Men and women who are solo authors of most of their papers have similar rates of tenure, when factoring in measures of paper quality.
  • When men co-author papers, each such paper is associated with an increase of 8 percent in the odds of the man earning tenure. But when women co-author papers, each such paper is associated only with a 2 percent increase in the odds of earning tenure.
Sarsons argues in her paper that there is additional evidence that women and men are judged differently when they co-author papers. When women co-author papers with women, the impact of co-authored papers is similar to that for male faculty members. But when papers are co-authored with men, there is more of an impact, suggesting that review committees assume that papers written by a man and a woman reflect the work of the man more than the woman.
Part of the issue is that the convention in economics is to list article names alphabetically. So it would be interesting to see if these effects hold true in fields where authors are listed in terms of contribution/effort. Sarsons herself says more research is needed on this topic, and was hesitant to offer advice based on her findings, though she mentioned women might want to try to work with other female co-authors to ensure their efforts are being weighted properly. Of course, let's not forget that reviewers have rejected articles written by women for failing to have a male co-author.

So which do we academic ladies prefer: rock or hard place?

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