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Here’s what we can do about the gender gap in political science journals

Here’s the sixth article in our series on the gender gap in political science.

Throughout academia, including in political science, women haven’t achieved parity with men. As this series explores, implicit bias holds women back at every stage, from the readings that professors assign to the student evaluations that influence promotions and pay, from journal publications to book awards. These political and sociological problems deserve study as much as any of the other issues the academy investigates. Here’s the sixth piece in our two-week series on the gender gap in political science — and what we can do about it. — Kim Yi Dionne

Every academic knows the mandate: Publish or perish. Women in political science know it just as well as their male peers. That means it hurts women’s careers when the field’s academic books and top journals regularly publish more research by men than women. And even when women publish in top outlets, their work is less likely to be cited or to appear on course syllabi than research by men.

Observers have debated why that might be. Are women underrepresented in publication outlets and cited less often because they choose subfields and methods that are less represented in the top journals? Or do the top political science publishers regularly publish more articles by men because of gender bias? We’ve been researching that question, as others have — and find that both are true. Many women are submitting their work to lower-ranked journals. At the same time, when women work in the central research areas of the discipline, their work is less likely to gain attention. This contributes to the “leaky pipeline” wherein women exit political science at higher rates than men as they move through the discipline’s ranks.

Here’s how we did our research

We looked at the proportion of male and female authors published in 38 political science journals and compared that with the proportion of male and female members of the political science subfield organizations that sponsored the journals. We found that women are underrepresented in journals compared with their membership rates. That was true in every subfield, no matter how large or small a proportion of their members and their journals’ authors were women.

For instance, we found a gap when women make up most of a journal’s authors and its organization’s members, as in Politics & Gender: 92 percent of the journal’s sponsoring Women and Politics Research section members are women, while only 83 percent of the journal’s authors are women. And it was true in subfields and journals in which female members and authors are a small minority, such as Political Analysis, in which 22 percent of the Political Methodology section are women and yet only 14 percent of the journal’s authors are female.

All political science journals publish a smaller proportion of women than belong to their sponsoring organizations.

The largest gender gaps in publication rates appear in the journals colloquially known as the “big three”: the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science and the Journal of Politics. These journals are sponsored by the largest national and regional associations of political scientists, and are designed to reflect the entire discipline. And yet the percentage of female authors in these top journals is typically 15 to 20 percent lower than expected. This is troubling — because in some subfields and departments, publishing in one of these three journals is essential to promotion and tenure.

These big three journals are also perceived as less likely to publish research that uses qualitative rather than quantitative methods, or research on topics not considered broad enough to be of interest across the discipline. In practice, this has often excluded interpretive or postcolonial research, as well as research on race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, and/or the intersections of these identities — political science fields that are more populated by women.

Is it that women aren’t submitting at high enough rates? Recent surveys of political scientists confirm that while women’s chances of being published are the same as for men, female scholars submit their work to top journals less often than men, resulting in a submission gap. Further, women are less likely to believe their work will be published by particular journals, even when they use the methods or approaches most associated with that journal.

But even when women publish academic books or articles with prestigious publishers, there’s ample evidence that their work may still be overlooked. When men publish articles and books (with or without women on the team), they’re less likely to cite work by women than by men, even in research areas where women are a clear majority of authors. In research with Jane Sumner, we found that to be true for a decade of articles in the American Political Science Review, the flagship research journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA). We also found that in more specialized APSA-affiliated organizations’ journals, whether they had the lowest (Political Analysis) or highest (Politics & Gender) rate of female membership.

Let’s restate that: Male authors (even when they’re writing with women) are significantly less likely to cite work by women than by men, even in a field such as gender and politics in which more than 90 percent of scholars are women. Our previous work found a similar pattern for the flagship journals of the International Studies Association.

It’s not enough for women to try harder.

Together, these findings suggest that advising women to submit their research to high-profile journals may not be enough, when their work is likely to be devalued. Rather, scholars and journal editors may wish to reflect on their practices and policies. For example, we argue that in the absence of more detailed information, authors and instructors should examine their field’s subfield membership data — and ensure that their citations and assigned readings use at least that proportion of female authors. Sumner has developed a Gender Balance Assessment Tool, or GBAT, making this simple to do.

Journal editors might wish to ensure a similar proportion among their reviewers and to adopt policies like that of the International Studies Review, which reviews reference lists for gender balance. Scholars can raise attention to gender biases in the classroom with an assignment that we developed to help students reflect on gendered citation practices.

Our work to date has focused on gender. Scholars of color and other groups seeking equity are also underrepresented, an issue that deserves similar attention. Putting the burden for reducing gender gaps on women (submit to top journals or cite yourself more!) is not enough.

Previously in this series:

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Michelle L. Dion (@michelledion) is associate professor of political science at McMaster University and the author of a book and dozens of peer-reviewed articles.

Sara McLaughlin Mitchell (@sbmitche) is the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa and the author of five books and more than 40 journal articles and book chapters.