Gender, Topics, and Publication: Clues from Political Science?

A new study in political science provides evidence for an explanation of why “women are more likely to leave the profession than men” and why “those who stay are promoted at lower rates.”

The study, “You Research Like a Girl: Gendered Research Agendas and Their Implications,” looks at the gender distribution of authors on various topics in political science and then checks to see how well those topics are discussed in top political science journals.

The authors, Ellen M. Key (Appalachian State) and Jane Lawrence Sumner (Minnesota), used dissertation topics in political science to determine the gender distribution on specific topics and created the following chart depicting them:

from “You Research Like a Girl: Gendered Research Agendas and Their Implications” by Ellen M. Key and Jane Lawrence Sumner

They then asked, “Are topics most favored by women less likely to appear in top journals?” adding:

If this were true, it could provide an explanation for the leaky pipeline. That is, if women pursue topics that—for whatever reason—are less likely to be published in major journals than topics pursued by men, they may fare less well in tenure and promotion and therefore be less likely to be promoted or more likely to leave the discipline. If “appearing in the top three journals” is also a heuristic for being valued by the field as a whole, this could indicate that topics written about more often by women may be less valued by hiring committees, suggesting another pathway by which women may leave the discipline.

They looked at three top journals—American Political Science Review (APSR), American Journal of Political Science (AJPS), and Journal of Politics (JOP) for the years 2000–2018—and found that “topics favored by women tend to appear at low rates in these journals, whereas topics favored by men appear at fairly high rates.”

Might there be a similar phenomenon in philosophy?

At this stage I don’t think we have as careful a consideration of the evidence for our discipline to draw this conclusion. We do have at least one depiction of the gender distribution of philosophy research topics. However, it is based on paper topics, rather than dissertation topics, which Key and Sumner chose to use because topic choice at the dissertation stage is likely less corrupted by the topic-publication bias they were exploring. We also have some studies showing publication discrepancies by gender (e.g., women are less represented in top ethics journals, women are less represented in top philosophy journals), but to my knowledge there has not been much work determining the causes of this.

Pointers to other relevant work are welcome.

Related: Demographic Diversity is Good for PhilosophyUnderappreciated Articles by Women Philosophers 2008-2018Ways to Increase Diversity of Authors in Philosophy JournalsPercentages of U.S. Doctorates in Philosophy Given to Women and to Minorities, 1973-2014


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