Despite the increasing representation of women in science, gender gaps in publications and citations have continued to widen since the middle of the last century.
A new study has found an explanation: Women are more likely than men to drop out of science , reducing their publishing careers.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used the Web of Science database to reconstruct the editorial careers of nearly 8 million scientists between 1900 and 2016 .
The analyzes then focused on 412,808 women scientists and 1,110,194 scientists who had not published since 2010, indicating that their publishing careers were over. On average, men had significantly longer careers (11.0 years) than women (9.3 years), measured as the time between their first and last article.
If we interpret ‘good’ here in terms of productivity and / or number of appointments, we see that women are quite similar to men, as long as they remain in the system and do not leave . The point is, they do.
The researchers also found that, compared to men in the same discipline, women received 38.4% fewer appointments. This gap was reduced to 12.0% when the duration of the race was controlled.
When women were compared to men who had the same number of posts, they actually received 0.8% more citations.
In other words, while many initiatives to reduce gender inequality focus on increasing the visibility of women in science and in the authorship of scientific studies, the results of this analysis suggest that these initiatives may not address the real causes of gender inequality. Problem: that women have no incentive to continue their scientific careers .
The problem is that the reasons why women drop out are not well understood. Do you prefer to focus on the family? Are they intimidated or scrutinized? Do they have less need to escalate because it is not attractive to the opposite sex? It is difficult to know the reasons because people, when questioned by them, may not be sincere, or simply cannot be.
According to an analysis published in Vox EU , the percentage of women who signed papers in the first four months of 2020 is similar to that of 2019, around 20%. However, if we stop only at the studies dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, which have been done quickly and in a period of confinement, the proportion of women drops to 12% .
Another study for Nature Index analyzed more than 300,000 preprints published in 11 repositories from various disciplines, signed by more than a million authors in total, noting a significant drop in the proportion of women in March and April .
This may perhaps give us a clue: in a more home or family environment, women produce less. But do they do it because they have more incentive to take care of the house? Do they tackle more family tasks because men neglect them? The reasons, again, are difficult to isolate, and we depend on many particular details in each of the interactions and contexts.
This is neither an obstacle nor an obstacle to continue investigating the reasons behind this decline in studies signed by women: in a world where scientific research is increasingly important, we cannot afford to do without the effort and talent of half of the population. population for reasons that, perhaps, and only perhaps, could be cushioned .
And to clarify the causal nodes of this perhaps inextricable jungle , we must also take into account the reason that underlies the fact that studies in which women appear as leading authors receive fewer citations than those with men in an equivalent position, according to this 2013 study .
Given all the complexity that lies ahead, perhaps the solution of setting quotas on appointments (as is already being done ) is not an ideal solution, or even an effective one, but a counterweight that overshadows the real reasons and problems that underlie the different roles that men and women play in the workplace. Naturally, that doesn’t mean we should just give up and do nothing, but rather act more like foxes than hedgehogs :