Self-Citation Gender Gap

A study suggests that female researchers do not cite their own work as often as their male colleagues do.

Mar 18, 2014
Rina Shaikh-Lesko

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, VLADIMIR MENKOVA study commissioned by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that women in academia are much less likely than men to cite their own research. Because citation counts are now critical to many decisions about hiring and promotions, citations are becoming one more area where women are falling behind their male colleagues.

A research team from the University of Washington, led by theoretical and evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom, analyzed 1.6 million papers spanning 60 years from the scholarly database JSTOR. The papers included 40 million citations, of which 1 million were from scholars referring to their own work. Bergstrom’s team found that men were 56 percent more likely to cite their own work. In some male-heavy fields, the gender gap was even more pronounced than in fields where female researchers are more prevalent. In mathematics, for example, men were 84 percent more likely than women to self-cite, compared to sociology, where they were only 43 percent more likely to cite their own research. The researchers also reported that this gap has grown in the last 10 years, as more women have entered academic research.

“If men are self-citing at a higher rate, and we are using those data to decide things like who to hire,” Shelley Correll of Stanford University, who is collaborating with the research team on another study, told the Chronicle, “then men are gaining an advantage.”

The researchers proposed that the issue may be linked to workplace attitudes—women might be more likely to consider self-citation unseemly—as well as professional practices—female researchers are more likely to work on smaller teams, resulting in fewer opportunities for citations by their colleagues.