Some statistics about female authors in academia

Today, I again used data from the literature tracking tool Academic Sequitur, this time to examine some gender patterns in publishing across fields. I took article data from 2018-2020 and estimated the share of female authorships for 38 different research fields, as determined by the field of each journal.* I excluded names that could not be classified as female or male; thus, the share female and share male add up to 1 in each case.

What are the most male-dominated fields? Mathematics barely clears 20 percent female authors, with computer science and finance close behind (or ahead?). Economics just makes it over the 25 percent hurdle and has fewer female authors than engineering. Business does slightly better, with 32 percent female authors. Archeology rounds out this group with just under 40 percent women.

The bottom half of the male-dominated scale has many fields with that are right around 40 percent female, including urban studies, neuroscience, epidemiology, health policy and pharmacology. Finally, three fields have a greater than 50-50 female representation: demography (60.0 percent female), social work (65.7 percent women), and gender studies (66.0 percent female).

Although a few research fields were excluded from this analysis for conciseness, it’s pretty clear that gender parity has a long way to go in academia in the vast majority of fields, even if we look at the most recent data.

* A journal may belong to more than one field. Highly multidisciplinary journals, such as Nature, Science, and PNAS, were excluded from the sample.

Who is publishing in AER: Insights? An update

Over a year ago, I wrote a post tabulating the share of AER: Insights authors who have also published in a top-5 journal*. (The answer was 67%, significantly higher than most other journals, except those that generally solicit papers, like the Journal of Economic Literature.)

Now that AER: Insights is in its second year of publishing and has 60 forthcoming/published articles, I decided to revisit this question, again using Academic Sequitur data. The graph below shows the percent of authors that (a) have published/are forthcoming in a given journal in 2018-2020 and (b) have had at least one top-5 article published since 2000. The journals below are the top ten journals based on that metric.

With a score of 66%, AER: Insights still has the highest share of top-5 authors among journals where submissions are not generally solicited.** The next-highest journal, Theoretical Economics, is five percentage points behind. (There is some indication that the share for AER: Insights is coming down: for articles accepted in 2020, the top-5 share was “only” 60%.)

What if we condition on having two or more top-5 publications? That actually causes AER: Insights to move up in the ranking, overtaking Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Whether this pattern exists because AER: Insights is extremely selective or because less-established scholars are reluctant to submit their work to a new-ish journal or for some other reason is impossible to know without submission data. But no matter how you look at it, the group currently publishing in AER: Insights is quite elite.




*Top 5 is defined as American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, and Review of Economic Studies.

**AER: Insights would be even higher-ranked by this metric (#3) if we ignored top-5 publications in American Economic Review. Therefore, this pattern is not driven by the fact that both journals are published by the AEA.

Where do men and women economists publish?

We all know that economics is a male-dominated discipline on average. But how does the representation of women look across different journals? Armed with Academic Sequitur* article metadata (going back to around 2000), I determined the genders of 82% of all authors in the data and calculated the prevalence of male authors by journal for 50 top-ranked journals in economics.** To see how things have changed over time, I also repeated this exercise with articles that were published in 2018-2019.

Just to set some expectations: in the gender-matched dataset, 82% of author-article observations are male (80% when restricted to 2018-2019). So if a journal has, say, 75% male authors, it’s doing better than average. With that, here are the top 10 male-dominated journals, ranked by share of male authors over the entire data period.*** To be super-duper scientific, 95 percent confidence intervals are also shown, and I added a vertical line at 82.1% for easy benchmarking to the average.

So three of the top five journals (Econometrica, QJE, and ReStud) have also been the three most male-dominated journals, at least historically, with 90%, 89%, and 88% male authors, respectively. A fourth (Journal of Political Economy) also barely made the top ten, with 87% male authors. These numbers also illustrate that there’s not much difference between the #1 and #10 male-dominated journal.

Encouragingly, there are some improvements as well. The share of male authors in QJE was almost 9 percentage points lower in 2018-2019 compared to the whole sample period. JPE‘s share decreased by 7 percentage points, putting these journals in the top 5 most improved. If ranked based on 2018-2019 shares, Econometrica would be #6, ReStud would be #11, QJE would be #24, and JPE would be #28, just barely in the bottom half.

The Journal of Finance, by contrast, has taken a small but statistically significant step backwards, with a 3 percentage point increase in the share of male authors. If ranked by the 2018-2019 male ratio, it would be number 1.

Here are the least male-dominated journals (rank 41-50). Economics of Education Review and JHR are both about 66% male. Surprisingly, both applied AEJs are in the least male-dominated group (AEJ: Applied is 71% male; AEJ: Policy is 74%). This may be because they are newer, though it is worth noting that their overall average is below the 2018-2019 average of 80%.

Here’s the rest of the pack. First, here are journals ranked 31-40 on the male-dominated scale (i.e., next 10 least male-dominated), ordered by share male in the overall sample. AER and ReStat are in this group, with 80% and 81% male, respectively. Thus, AER has historically been an outlier among the top five on this dimension (using 2018-2019 shares, it would rank #19, right in the middle of the other top five journals).

Here’s rank 21-30, all in the low-to-mid 80’s.

And here’s rank 11-20. AER: Insights is 84% male. The other two AEJs are in this group, with males representing about 85% of all author-article observations.

These patterns do not necessarily reflect discrimination: the representation of women in a particular field will obviously make a difference here (as evidenced by the positions of macro and theory journals). I leave it up to you, the reader, to interpret the numbers.****

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* Academic Sequitur is a tool I developed to help researchers keep up with new literature. You tell us what you want to follow, we send you weekly (or daily!) emails with article abstracts matching your criteria.

** Close to 1.5 percent of the initial observations are dropped because only the initials of the author are available. About 16.5 percent of the observations cannot be mapped to a name for which the gender is known. This includes a lot of Chinese names, for which it is very difficult to determine gender, according to my brief internet research. Names which can be both male and female are assigned a gender based on the relative probability of the name being male.

*** Each observation in the sample is an article-author, so those who publish in a journal multiple times will contribute relatively more to its average. Each coefficient is from a journal-specific regression. Confidence intervals are based on heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors.

**** If you want the numbers underlying these graphs, you can download the csv file here.

What publishes in top-5 economics journals?

Part I: agricultural economics, lab experiments, field experiments & economics of education

Most of us have a sense that it is more difficult to get certain topics published in the top 5 economics journals (American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, and Review of Economic Studies), but there is not much hard data on this. And if a particular topic appears infrequently in top journals, it may simply be because it’s a relatively rare topic overall.

To get more evidence on this issue, I used Academic Sequitur data, which covers the majority of widely-read journals in economics. The dataset I used contains articles from 139 economics journals and spans the years 2000-2019. On average, 6 percent of the papers in the dataset were published in a top 5 journal.

I classified papers into topics based on the presence of certain keywords in the abstract and title.* I chose the keywords carefully, aiming to both minimize the share of irrelevant articles and to minimize the omission of relevant ones. While there is certainly some measurement error, it should not bias the results. (Though readers should think of this as a “fun-level” analysis rather than a “rigorously peer-reviewed” analysis.)

I chose topics based on suggestions in response to an earlier Tweet of mine. To keep things manageable, I’m going to focus on a few topics at a time. To start off, I looked at agricultural economics (5.3% of articles in the dataset), field experiments (1.0% of articles), lab experiments (1.9% of articles), and education (1.8% of articles). I chose these to have some topic diversity and also because these topics were relatively easy to identify.** I then ran a simple OLS regression of a “top 5” indicator on each topic indicator (separately).***

The results are plotted in a graph below. Field experiments are much more likely to publish in a top 5 journal than in the other 134 journals (about 5 percentage points more likely!), while lab experiments are much less likely. Education doesn’t seem to be favored one way or the other, while agriculture is penalized about as much as field experiments are rewarded. Moral of the story: if you want to publish an ag paper in a top 5, make it a field experiment!

Now you might be saying, “I can’t even name 139 economics journals, so maybe this isn’t the relevant sample on which to run this regression.” Fair point (though see here for a way way longer list of econ journals). To address this, I restricted the set of journals to the 20 best-known general-interest journals—including the top 5—and re-generated the results.**** With the exception of lab experiments, the picture now looks quite different: both field experiments and education research are penalized by the top 5 journals, but agriculture is not.

Combining the two sets of results together, we can conclude that the top 5 penalize agricultural economics research but so do the other good general-interest journals. The top 5 journals also penalize field experiments relative to other good general-interest journals, but top general-interest journals as a whole rewards field experiments relative to other journals. Finally, top 5 journals penalize education relative to other good general-interest journals, but not relative to the field as a whole.

The second set of results is obviously sensitive to the set of journals considered. If I were to add field journals like the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, things would again look much worse for ag. And how much worse they look for a particular topic depends on how many articles the field journal publishes. So I prefer the most inclusive set of journals, but I welcome suggestions about which set of journals to use in future analyses! Would also love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this exercise in general, so please leave a comment.

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Endnotes

*I did not use JEL codes because many journals do not require or publish these and we therefore do not collect them. JEL codes are also easier to select strategically than the words in the title and abstract.

** An article falls into the category of agricultural economics if it contains any of the following words/phrases in the abstract or title (not case-sensitive, partial word matches count): “farm”, “crop insurance”, “crop yield”, “cash crop”, “crop production”, “crops production”, “meat processing”, “dairy processing”, “grain market”, “crop management”, “agribusiness”, “beef”, “poultry”, “hog price”, “cattle industry”, “rice cultivation”, “wheat cultivation”, “grain cultivation”, “grain yield”, “crop diversity”, “soil conditions”, “dairy sector”, “hectare”, “sugar mill”, “corn seed”, “soybean seed”, “maize production”, “soil quality” “agricultural chemical use”, “forest”. Field experiment: “field experiment”, “experiment in the field”. Lab experiment: “lab experiment”, “laboratory experiment”, “experimental data”, “randomized subject”, “online experiment”. Education: “return to education”, “returns to education”, “college graduate”, “schooling complet”, “teacher”, “kindergarten”, “preschool”, “community college”, “academic achievement”, “academic performance”, “postsecondary”, “educational spending”, “student performance”, “student achievement”, “student outcome”, “student learning”, “higher education” “educational choice”, “student academic progress”, “public education”, “school facilit”, “education system”, “school voucher” “private school”, “school district”, “education intervention”. Articles may fall into multiple categories.

*** Standard errors are heteroskedasticity-robust

**** The 15 additional journals are (in alphabetical order): American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Review: Insights, Economic Journal, Economic Policy, Economica, European Economic Review, Journal of the European Economic Association, Oxford Economic Papers, Quantitative Economics, RAND Journal of Economics, Review of Economics and Statistics, Scandinavian Journal of Economics.