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More Bad News on Women's Research Productivity

May 20, 2020

Another analysis documents productivity declines among women during COVID-19. This one, published in Nature Index, looks at submissions to 11 preprint repositories (indicative of overall research activity) and three platforms for registered reports (indicative of new projects). Over all, the authors found that women submitted fewer articles in March and April 2020 compared to the preceding two months and to March and April 2019. The researchers, like others in this area, attribute the sudden drop-offs to women's disproportionate caring loads at home during social distancing.

The biggest drops were observed in EarthArXiv, medRxiv, SocArXiv and among working papers published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. In arXiv and bioRxiv, female authorship had been increasing in January and February 2020 but then dropped as COVID-19 spread to match rates in earlier years.

Women in first-author positions on papers appear to have experienced larger productivity declines than their last-author counterparts. This is particularly worrisome, the authors suggest, because the norm across these disciplines is to assign first authorship to a more junior scholar, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic “may disproportionately affect early career researchers, with negative consequences” for their career trajectories.

Female first-author submissions to medRxiv, a medical preprint site, dropped from 36 percent in December to 20 percent in April, for instance. This has implications for public health, the paper said, in that much of the current medical research is on COVID-19, and if “women and other minorities are absent,” it may “alter the emphasis on aspects of the virus that are particularly important for certain populations.”

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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