Female Economists Advised to Avoid Group Work

January 11, 2016

Could lack of credit for co-written papers explain the underrepresentation of women in economics? New research by Heather Sarsons, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Harvard University, detailed in The New York Times, suggests that women struggle to earn tenure in the collaboration-heavy field because they aren’t afforded the same recognition for group work as their male co-authors. Sarsons compiled data on the publication records of young economists recruited by top U.S. universities over the last 40 years, according to The Times, and found that while women publish as much as men, they are twice as likely not to earn tenure. The difference persists even when controlling for tenure rates across universities, different subfields, quality of research and other factors. It’s most pronounced when a woman is the only female co-author on a paper.

The one exception? Women who work alone, or solo author everything, have roughly the same chance of receiving tenure as a man. Collaborative work had no negative impact on men’s career success, meanwhile. Sarsons notably completed a parallel analysis of similar data concerning sociologists, in which no gendered effect was observed in relation to group work and earning tenure (though she notes the sample was small). One possible explanation is that economists list their names alphabetically on a co-written paper, while sociologists list the lead author first. Sarsons’s working paper, called “Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work,” is available here.

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