Newswise — Amsterdam, October 27, 2021 – During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a study of 2,329 academic journals has found that fewer manuscripts were submitted by women than by men, with this gender gap being especially prominent in the medical field and for women in earlier stages of their careers. The researchers responsible for the study included academics and industry professionals from the University of Milan, Italy, and Elsevier, a global leader in research publishing.
Flaminio Squazzoni, Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Milan and colleagues, alongside Bahar Mehmani, Elsevier’s Reviewer Experience Lead present these findings in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
Prof. Squazzoni, who led the study, explained: “As a group of Italian academics living in Lombardy, Northern Italy, one of the hardest-hit regions by COVID-19, we felt the urgent pressures to respond to this global crisis, and designing a large-scale study on the effect of the pandemic on academics seemed one of the most valuable things we could do.”
Due to its wide-reaching effects on society, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted unusually high numbers of submissions of academic papers. Meanwhile, lockdown policies forced academics to handle new, or existing, familial responsibilities, potentially exacerbating known family-related challenges—particularly for women in academia.
Previous studies have examined this possibility, but the findings have been inconsistent.
Bahar Mehmani, Elsevier’s Reviewer Experience Lead, who coordinated the study, said: “We undertook this collaboration with the research community to create a strong evidence base for investigating critical issues such as how lockdown measures during the pandemic have globally impacted women academics across different disciplines. This is very much part of our wider commitment to driving an inclusive research ecosystem.”
To help clarify the impact of the pandemic on academic submissions, Prof. Squazzoni and colleagues applied statistical analyses to submission data from 2,329 journals published by Elsevier. They also examined data on academics who were invited to review submissions as part of the peer-review process.
In total, data on over 5 million authors working between February 2018 and May 2020 was collected and analyzed.
Between February and May of 2020, the findings show that submissions to the Elsevier journals increased by 30%, compared to the same period in 2019. However, women submitted fewer manuscripts than men across academic fields, including medicine, life sciences, physical sciences and the social sciences. This gender gap was especially strong in health and medicine—the field that is most directly related to COVID-19—and for women towards the beginning of their careers.
For most academic fields, similar proportions of women and men accepted invitations to review manuscripts. However, this was not the case for health and medicine, in which women were less involved.
Overall, these findings suggest that the onset of the pandemic may have fostered an environment that was relatively advantageous for men in academia. Given the importance of publishing for academics’ career success, the authors note that the gender deficits observed in this study could potentially have long-term effects that will deepen gender inequality in academia.
Notes for editors
The article is "Gender gap in journal submissions and peer review during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study on 2329 Elsevier journals," by F. Squazzoni, G. Bravo, F. Grimaldo, D. García-Costa, M. Farjam, and B. Mehmani (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257919). It appears in PLOS ONE (October 2021), published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS).
The paper was published open access and can be accessed by clicking the DOI link above.
About University of Milan
Established in 1923, the University of Milan is one of the largest universities in Europe with 70000 students. It includes 33 departments, 52 research centres, and offers 76 undergraduate, 60 Master’s degree, 32 doctoral programme and more than 65 postgraduate schools. The Department of Social and Political Sciences, which Dr. Flaminio Squazzoni is affiliated to, has been ranked number 1 in the last research national assessment. It includes a doctoral school with three research programmes and various excellence centres and labs, including the BEHAVE-Lab, a recently establishing centre for research and training in behavioural sociology, led by Prof. Flaminio Squazzoni. www.unimi.it
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