Women who work on scientific projects are 13 per cent less likely to be named as authors in research papers, a study carried out by researchers at New York University and Ohio State University has found.


The team used data taken from the UMETRICS project that was compiled by the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science. It contains information on more than 125,000 researchers who worked in almost 10,000 projects between 2013 and 2016 including undergrads, grad students, postdocs and senior research staff.

They found that the gender gap was present at every level but it was particularly evident for researchers in the early stages of their careers. Just 15 per cent of female grad students were attributed as authors of projects they worked on compared to 21 per cent of male students, for example.

The effect was also seen across all areas of study – including those where females are in the majority such as health.

“There is a clear gap between the rate at which women and men are named as coauthors on publications. The gap is strong, persistent, and independent of the research field,” said co-author Prof Julia Lane, of New York University.

“We have known for a long time that women publish and patent at a lower rate than men. But because previous data never showed who participated in research, no-one knew why. There were anecdotes—like that of Rosalind Franklin, who was denied authorship in a famous Nature article by James Watson and Francis Crick despite correctly demonstrating the double helix structure of DNA—but there was no evidence.”

Additionally, a survey of more than 2,400 researchers carried out alongside the analysis found that 43 per cent of women said they had been excluded from a scientific paper to which they had contributed compared to 38 per cent of men. Many respondents also noted that they felt minorities, and foreign-born scientists were at a similar disadvantage.

The findings could inform new policies to increase diversity in science, the researchers say.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.