Women receiving their first research grant from the National Institutes of Health are awarded an average of $39,000 less than men, according to an analysis published this week (March 5) in JAMA.
The authors of the study did not find discrepancies in performance between the men and women in the study that might explain the difference—both groups had published similar numbers of papers, with similar citation figures, and differences in funding remained even when the analysis was limited to researchers at certain types of institutions, such as those in the Ivy League. However, the trend was reversed when the analysis homed in on certain highly funded grants, such as those known as R01s, for which first-time women awardees received nearly $16,000 more, on average, than their male counterparts.
“That first grant is monumentally important and determines your trajectory,” Carolina Abdala, a head and neck specialist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the funding study, tells The New York Times. “It can help get you on the tenure track and it gets you into that club of successful scientists who can procure their own funding, which makes it easier to change jobs.”
In a statement to the Times, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says it is working to address funding disparities and other gender inequities in biomedical research. “We have and continue to support efforts to understand the barriers and factors faced by women scientists and to implement interventions to overcome them.”
Teresa Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an author of the JAMA paper, tells the Chicago Tribune she was “shocked” by the results, and that they indicate women’s research is being hampered by a lack of resources. “I think the promise of basic science and medicine is that tomorrow’s patient will be treated better than today’s,” she says. “It’s impossible to measure what we’ve lost as a consequence of the inequities.”