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A new study published on July 2 by the Perelman School of Medicine found that medical journals and articles written by women are cited less than those by men. Credit: Max Mester

A new study from the Perelman School of Medicine found that in medical journals, articles written by women are cited less often than those by men, often leading to slower career advancement and lower pay for female doctors. 

In the study, which was published on July 2, researchers analyzed 5,554 articles from five leading academic medical journals published between 2015 and 2018. The researchers found that articles with women as both primary and senior authors had approximately half as many median citations as those authored by men as both primary and senior authors. Research articles with women as both primary and senior authors were cited the fewest times of any combination of primary and senior authors.

Executive Director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics Rachel Werner and Assistant Professor of General Internal Medicine Paula Chatterjee – the two lead authors from the study – said that after hearing anecdotes from colleagues about women getting less recognition for their research, they set out to determine if the stories could be supported by statistics. The results only confirmed their suspicions.

“[Women] weren’t getting the same recognition as their male counterparts,” Chatterjee said. 

The study found that how often often researchers are cited impacts both promotions and ultimately pay. The disparity in citations is one possible explanation for the wage gap between male and female professors, a pressing issue at many universities.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed by female faculty across higher education surrounding inadequate compensation in recent years.

Princeton University announced in the fall of 2020 that it would pay nearly $1.2 million in compensation to female professors after a review of staff wages from 2012-2014.

Werner predicts that the gender gap in citations is partially due to female researchers being less well-known within their respective fields. 

“People are more likely to cite people that they know. The effect is self-perpetuating and it’s difficult to break. We need research as to how to address the problem,” Werner said. 

Another possible explanation is that women are less likely to self-cite, Chatterjee said. Self-citations are generally a major source of citations received, she added.

“This problem has a lot of contributing factors, so there are a lot of ways to go about solving the issue,” Chatterjee said. 

The disparity in citations of men and women is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Werner, who said that there are “all sorts of disparities across race, ethnicity, and gender” within the medical field.

Even so, there are steps that researchers can take to bridge the gap, Chatterjee said, such as being more cognizant of who they are citing and who they are not. Additionally, medical journals should find a way to gather citation metrics, in order to ensure equity, Chatterjee added. 

Chatterjee said the next step is conducting research on how to break the cycle. 

“The two next steps are straightforward: one is to figure out the reason why we see what we see, two is to figure out what we can do about it.”