The Impact of COVID-19 on Article Submission and Publication Rates of Women: The Importance of Collecting Data
Elif Yılmaz, Berra Karayel
Studies conducted by the editors of journals that collected demographic data in the early stages of the pandemic have ignited the debate on whether women academics’ research productivity was reduced compared to their male counterparts due to the conditions and implications that the pandemic has brought about. For example, Elizabeth Hannon, the editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, stated that the journal received almost no articles from female authors during April 2020 (Beck, 2020). In addition, David Samuels, an editor from the Journal of Comparative Political Studies indicated that during the pandemic article submissions increased by 25% compared to the previous year and while there was no change in the rate of female authors, the rate of male authors increased by 50% (Beck, 2020). Furthermore, according to a study by Cui et al. (2022) in the United States, 13.2%-13.9% fewer social science articles have been produced since the beginning of the pandemic and the productivity of female researchers has been affected more negatively than male researchers in this process. These studies demonstrate the power of demographic data collection, as this type of data can also show which groups are the most affected in times of such crises. Even though collecting demographic data during the manuscript submission process is seen as problematic, challenging this, we argue that it is critical for generating policies that could contribute to the diminishing of structural inequalities in academia. Can the undeniable power of data be used to make inequalities more visible and to develop egalitarian policies? Our answer to that is an absolute yes. In the following sections, we will focus on the publication processes of scientific journals and explain the basis of this answer. This blog article will discuss how the lack of demographic data could reinforce gender inequalities in particular, as well as negatively influence other disadvantaged groups, by sharing the experiences encountered during the initial data collection process of our research project[i].
The project aimed to understand the impact of the pandemic on women academics in terms of their subjective well-being, domestic responsibilities, and academic/research productivity. During the first stage of the project, the goal was to examine the gender ratio for submitted and published articles in journals with the highest impact factor. For the data collection, national and international journals in 54 fields were ranked according to their impact factor based on the Scimago Journal & Country Rank 2019. Among the international journals listed, the first three journals with the highest impact factor were selected. For each of the three selected journals, contact information for the editor-in-chief, editorial team, or their offices was obtained. A similar method was also implemented for Turkish journals: after listing national journals based on their impact factor, the top journal was selected for each field. The journals were contacted to collect data on the number of articles submitted by female and male authors for three points in time: March 2017, January 2020, and March 2021. We aimed to determine the rates for a time period long before the pandemic began, just before the pandemic started to spread globally, and one year after the beginning of the pandemic to understand its effect on articles submitted by female authors. Subsequently, we contacted 49 national and 162 international journals.
There were numerous obstacles surrounding the data collection process for submission rates. This step heavily depended on the cooperation of the journals as we requested data that is not typically available to third parties. However, we received mostly negative replies. These negative responses were based on different reasons: some journals did not collect demographic information about the authors, the requested data could only be created manually which would create an extra workload for the team, sharing the data with third parties was against the privacy policies and regulations, or it did not comply with the ethical policies of journals. To be able to find a solution, the initial list was extended to include the top ten international journals and the top three national journals with the highest impact factor. We contacted these journals and requested the necessary data. At the end of this process, we received data from only 18 international and 21 national journals. In the data received from the 18 international journals, the submission rates of female authors were found as 33.4% in March 2017, 35.7% in January 2020, and 39.3% in March 2021. Among the 21 national journals we received data from, those rates were 30.4% for March 2017, 47% for January 2020, and 38.5% for March 2021. Initially, no significant change in submission rates could be seen. However, these results do not represent the general context since the data on gender-based submission rates were obtained from a limited number of journals. At the same time, the conditions under which women are maintaining expectations concerning preparing articles, especially during the pandemic, are also expected to be significantly different than that of their male colleagues. There are also studies showing otherwise for the first stage of COVID-19: Squazzoni et al. (2021), examining more than 5 million articles submitted to all Elsevier journals between February 2018 and May 2020, found that during the first wave of the pandemic, female scholars submitted fewer manuscripts than male scholars. Furthermore, it should also be underlined that we contacted top journals only. While these rates could vary in journals with lower impact factors, it was important to investigate whether a widened gender gap exists in submissions to the most competitive ones as a result of the pandemic.
Despite the low response rate to our data request, this process still provided critical implications for the data deficit and its potential impact on the persistence of inequalities in academia. To illustrate, one of the reasons for declining to share data was attributed to the fact that data on author demographics in manuscript submissions had not been collected, which prevented us from being able to make a comparison between submission and publication rates in the same journals. While the percentage of journals that provided information was 42.9% for national journals, it was 11.1% for international journals. Could it be that journals which do not collect data regarding the gender, age, race, and ethnicity of authors in an attempt to prevent bias in turn makes inequalities even more invisible? Can the undeniable power of data be used to make inequalities more apparent and help to generate more egalitarian policies in academia?
The collection of demographic information during the article submission process to academic journals is just one aspect of the significance of data in challenging inequalities in academia and beyond. Choosing not to collect demographic information in order to avoid potential bias may prevent us from seeing and understanding inequalities in different parts of the job market overall, and as these structural barriers continue to persist for those who are more disadvantaged and marginalized in society, it can lead to a vicious cycle of inequalities.
Although the data is limited to compare submission and publication rates, male and female authors’ ratios for published articles were also investigated in a further step of the research. After looking into submission rates, we examined 49 national and 162 international journals’ latest issues for the same time periods (March 2017, January 2020, and March 2021). The findings of the male-female author ratio analysis indicated no significant change over the focused period. The female author rates in articles published in international journals were 35.5% in March 2017, 34.9% in January 2020, and 36.5% in March 2021. For national journals, these rates were 30.4% in March 2017, 47% in January 2020, and 38.5% in March 2021. Similar to this research, Jemielniak et al. (2021) focused on the change in article publication rates by analyzing the first names of the authors of the articles published in 2019, 2020, and 2021 in a total of 2813 journals for 21 fields. The authors also reported no significant change in the publication rates of women and men in the articles they reviewed. Additional studies also found that, contrary to initial findings and claims, the publication rates of female academics are not more affected than males (Abramo et al., 2022; Kwon et al., 2023). However, according to our analysis there was also no increase in the rate of female authors, and the ratio is still lower for female academics compared to males. It should be taken into consideration that in scientific areas where women’s proportion is higher in publications, the number of single-authored articles are lower (Jemielniak et al., 2021). Lastly, the cost of maintaining women’s publications is also expected to require an extra workload as stated above. The time spent by female academics, especially for balancing paid and unpaid work, and greater expectations of them for undertaking the mostly unrecognized administrative duties, make the difficulties they face more differentiated. Therefore, it is necessary to reveal the experiences of women in academia beyond numbers/rates.
Abramo, G., D’Angelo, C. A., & Mele, I. (2022). Impact of Covid-19 on research output by gender across countries. Scientometrics, 1-16.
Beck, D. (2020, 30 April). “The COVID-19 pandemic and the research lab”. Neuro Central. https://www.neuro-central.com/the-covid-19-pandemic-and-the-research-lab/ (Last accessed: 16 January 2023)
Cui, R., Ding, H., & Zhu, F. (2022). Gender inequality in research productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, 24(2), 707-726.
Jemielniak, D., Sławska, A., & Wilamowski, M. (2021). COVID-19 effect on the gender gap in academic publishing. Journal of Information Science, 01655515211068168.
Kwon, E., Yun, J., & Kang, J. H. (2023). The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on gendered research productivity and its correlates. Journal of Informetrics, 101380.
Squazzoni, F., Bravo, G., Grimaldo, F., García-Costa, D., Farjam, M., & Mehmani, B. (2021). Gender gap in journal submissions and peer review during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study on 2329 Elsevier journals. PloS one, 16(10), e0257919.
[i] This blog article is based on the findings of the research titled “The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women in academia: Subjective well-being, household responsibilities, and research productivity”, funded by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) (1002- Short-term support module, project no. 220K276). For any project related questions, please contact Aslı E. Mert (Project PI): firstname.lastname@example.org.