Papers Written by Women Authors Are Cited Less Frequently, but the Etiology of this Finding is Complex

By Justin Esarey, Wake Forest University, and Kristin Bryant, Rice University


A recent symposium in Political Analysis, anchored around Dion, Sumner and Mitchell (2018), discusses their finding that articles authored by women are more likely to cite at least one paper authored by women. Our contribution to this symposium (Esarey and Bryant, 2018) noted that articles in the Dion, Sumner, and Mitchell (2018) data set with at least one female author are cited no more or less often than male-authored articles once we control for the publishing journal and the number of authors. In this paper, we present additional findings that place the results of our original paper into a broader context. This context is important to fully understand how scholarship by women is utilized by the discipline, how scholars’ careers are impacted as a result of this utilization, and how we might achieve greater gender parity in the field.

When looking at the the unadjusted data set, articles with at least one woman author are in fact cited fewer times on average. It is plausible that this citation gap does represent a substantively meaningful barrier to the advancement of women in the discipline. As we reported in Political Analysis, papers with women authors are no more or less likely to be cited once the number of authors and the publishing journal are controlled for via linear regression. However, simply controlling for author count is insufficient to eliminate the gender disparity in citations: controlling for the publishing journal is crucial. An implication is that women may be systematically disadvantaged in the field, but that this disadvantage is not a function of discrimination against women when articles are chosen to be cited. Instead, consistent with the findings of Teele and Thelen (2017), we find that articles in the most-cited journals of the discipline are less likely to have women authors. The etiology of that relationship (and the citation gender gap that it creates among political scientists) is difficult to unravel.

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