Gender disparities in UK research publishing: Differences between fields, methods and topics


Gender disparities persist in UK research, with female minorities in most science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects but female majorities in others. The nature of the gender disparity differences between subjects needs to be understood if effective remedial actions are to be targeted at STEM subjects suffering from a lack of women, in contrast to other subjects without shortages. Evidence from the USA suggests that women engage more in people-related subjects, qualitative methods, veterinary science and cell biology and men engage more in thing-related subjects, power/control fields, patient-related research, abstraction and quantitative methods, except surveys. This article investigates gender disparity differences in UK first authorship for journal articles in nearly all of science split into 26 broad and 308 narrow Scopus fields. The results largely replicate the USA but suggest that more life science topics may be female-associated in the UK and patient-related research might not be male-associated. UK STEM gender parity initiatives might therefore emphasise people-oriented, and perhaps socially positive, aspects of currently masculine STEM topics and approaches (e.g., abstraction, mathematical quantitative methods), and promote female-friendly topics, methods and goals within male-dominated fields in addition to tacking implicit and explicit sexism and providing a supportive working environment.

Biografía del autor/a

Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton. Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group

Mike Thelwall is the head of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. He has developed a wide range of software for gathering and analysing web data, including hyperlink analysis, sentiment analysis and content analysis for Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, blogs and the web in general.

Mahshid Abdoli, University of Wolverhampton. Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group

Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group


Alesina, Alberto; Giuliano, Paola; Nunn, Nathan (2013). “On the origins of gender roles: Women and the plough”. The quarterly journal of economics, v. 128, n. 2, pp. 469-530.

Armstrong, Mary; Jovanovic, Jasna (2017). “The intersectional matrix: Rethinking institutional change for URM women in STEM”. Journal of diversity in higher education, v. 10, n. 3, pp. 216-231.

Barnard, Sarah (2017). “The Athena SWAN charter: promoting commitment to gender equality in higher education institutions in the UK”. In: White, Kate; O’Connor, Pat. Gendered success in higher education. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2017, pp. 155-174. ISBN: 978 1 137566591

Benjamini, Yoav; Hochberg, Yosef (1995). “Controlling the false discovery rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing”. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B (Methodological), v. 57, n. 1, pp. 289-300.

Brown, Lorraine; Watson, Pamela (2010). “Understanding the experiences of female doctoral students”. Journal of further and higher education, v. 34, n. 3, pp. 385-404.

Bryant, Louise; Burkinshaw, Paula; House, Allan; West, Robert; Ward, Vicky (2017). “Good practice or positive action? Using Q methodology to identify competing views on improving gender equality in academic medicine”. BMJ open, v. 7, n. 8, e015973.

BSA (2018). Gender roles / Attitudes to gender roles: change over time?

Caffrey, Louise; Wyatt, David; Fudge, Nina; Mattingley, Helena; Williamson, Catherine; McKevitt, Christopher (2016). “Gender equity programmes in academic medicine: a realist evaluation approach to Athena SWAN processes”. BMJ open, v. 6, n. 9, e012090.

Cameron, Elissa; White, Angela; Gray, Meeghan (2016). “Solving the productivity and impact puzzle: do men outperform women, or are metrics biased?”. BioScience, v. 66, n. 3, pp. 245-252.

Ceci, Stephen; Ginther, Donna; Kahn, Shulamit; Williams, Wendy (2014). “Women in academic science: A changing landscape”. Psychological science in the public interest, v. 15, n. 3, pp. 75-141.

Ceci, Stephen; Williams, Wendy (2011). “Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 108, n. 8, pp. 3157-3162.

Chang, Lei (1999). “Gender role egalitarian attitudes in Beijing, Hong Kong, Florida, and Michigan”. Journal of cross-cultural psychology, v. 30, n. 6, pp. 722-741.

Cheryan, Sapna; Drury, Benjamin; Vichayapai, Marissa (2013). “Enduring influence of stereotypical computer science role models on women’s academic aspirations”. Psychology of women quarterly, v. 37, n. 1, pp. 72-79.

Cheryan, Sapna; Siy, John-Oliver; Vichayapai, Marissa; Drury, Benjamin J.; Kim, Saenam (2011). “Do female and male role models who embody STEM stereotypes hinder women’s anticipated success in STEM?”. Social psychological and personality science, v. 2, n. 6, pp. 656-664.

Cheryan, Sapna; Ziegler, Sianna; Montoya, Amanda; Jiang, Lily (2017). “Why are some STEM fields more gender balanced than others?”. Psychological bulletin, v. 143, n. 1, pp. 1-35.

Christensen, Martin (2017). “Men in nursing: The early years”. Journal of nursing education and practice, v. 7, n. 5, pp. 94-103.

Dahlberg, Lena; Demack, Sean; Bambra, Clare (2007). “Age and gender of informal carers: a population‐based study in the UK”. Health & social care in the community, v. 15, n. 5, pp. 439-445.

Diekman, Amanda; Brown, Elizabeth; Johnston, Amanda; Clark, Emily (2010). “Seeking congruity between goals and roles: A new look at why women opt out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers”. Psychological science, v. 21, n. 8, pp. 1051-1057.

Diekman, Amanda; Steinberg, Mia (2013). “Navigating social roles in pursuit of important goals: A communal goal congruity account of STEM pursuits”. Social and personality psychology compass, v. 7, n. 7, pp. 487-501.

Diekman, Amanda; Steinberg, Mia; Brown, Elizabeth; Belanger, Aimee; Clark, Emily (2017). “A goal congruity model of role entry, engagement, and exit: Understanding communal goal processes in STEM gender gaps”. Personality and social psychology review, v. 21, n. 2, pp. 142-175.

Dyer, Sarah; Walkington, Helen; Williams, Rebecca; Morton, Katherine; Wyse, Stephanie (2016). “Shifting landscapes: from coalface to quick sand? Teaching geography, earth and environmental sciences in higher education”. Area, v. 48, n. 3, pp. 308-316.

England, Paula (2010). “The gender revolution: Uneven and stalled”. Gender & society, v. 24, n. 2, pp. 149-166.

Etzkowitz, Henry; Kemelgor, Carol; Uzzi, Brian (2000). “Athena unbound: The advancement of women in science and technology”. BioScience, v. 51, n. 6, pp. 504-509.[0504:AUTAOW]2.0.CO;2

Eurostat (2019). Women in science and technology.

Glass, Jennifer; Sassler, Sharon; Levitte, Yael; Michelmore, Katherine (2013). “What’s so special about STEM? A comparison of women’s retention in STEM and professional occupations”. Social forces, v. 92, n. 2, pp. 723-756.

Gordon, Allegra; Krieger, Nancy; Okechukwu, Cassandra; Haneuse, Sebastien; Samnaliev, Mihail; Charlton, Brittany; Austin, Bryn (2017). “Decrements in health-related quality of life associated with gender nonconformity among US adolescents and young adults”. Quality of life research, v. 26, n. 8, pp. 2129-2138.

Gregory‐Smith, Ian (2018). “Positive action towards gender equality: Evidence from the Athena SWAN Charter in UK medical schools”. British journal of industrial relations, v. 56, n. 3, pp. 463-483.

Guarino, Cassandra; Borden, Victor (2017). “Faculty service loads and gender: Are women taking care of the academic family?”. Research in higher education, v. 58, n. 6, pp. 672-694.

Haeri, Shahla (2013). “No end in sight: politics, paradox, and gender policies in Iran”. Boston University law review, v. 93, pp. 1049-1062.

HESA (2018a). Data and analysis.

HESA (2018b). Staff in higher education 2016/17.

HESA (2018c). Higher education student statistics: UK, 2016/17 - Qualifications achieved.

HESA (2018d). Academic staff by cost centres.

HESA (2019). HE academic staff by nationality and cost centre. (2017/8 data)

Hines, Melissa (2011). “Gender development and the human brain”. Annual review of neuroscience, v. 34, pp. 69-88.

Holman, Luke; Stuart-Fox, Devi; Hauser, Cindy (2018). “The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented?”. PLoS biology, v. 16, n. 4, e2004956.

Kandiko-Howson, Camille; Coate, Kelly; De-St-Croix, Tania (2018). “Mid-career academic women and the prestige economy”. Higher education research & development, v. 37, n. 3, pp. 533-548.

Larivière, Vincent; Desrochers, Nadine; Macaluso, Benoit; Mongeon, Philippe; Paul-Hus, Adele; Sugimoto, Cassidy (2016). “Contributorship and division of labor in knowledge production”. Social studies of science, v. 46, n. 3, pp. 417-435.

Lindsey, Linda (2016). Gender roles: A sociological perspective. London: Routledge. ISBN: 978 1 317348078

Lipton, Briony (2017). “Measures of success: cruel optimism and the paradox of academic women’s participation in Australian higher education”. Higher education research & development, v. 36, n. 3, pp. 486-497.

Maddrell, Avril; Strauss, Kendra; Thomas, Nicola; Wyse, Stephanie (2016). “Mind the gap: Gender disparities still to be addressed in UK higher education geography”. Area, v. 48, n. 1, pp. 48-56.

Main, Joyce (2018). “Kanter’s theory of proportions: Organizational demography and PhD completion in science and engineering departments”. Research in higher education, v. 59, n. 8, pp. 1059-1073.

Mehran, Golnar (2009). “‘Doing and undoing gender’: Female higher education in the Islamic Republic of Iran”. International review of education, v. 55, n. 5/6, pp. 541-559.

Moss-Racusin, Corinne; Dovidio, John; Brescoll, Victoria; Graham, Mark; Handelsman, Jo (2012). “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 109, n. 41, pp. 16474-16479.

Mott, Jason; Lee, Danny (2018). “Navigating unfamiliar waters: Men in nursing academia”. Journal of professional nursing, v. 34, n. 1, pp. 42-46.

Nielsen, Mathias (2016). “Gender inequality and research performance: moving beyond individual-meritocratic explanations of academic advancement”. Studies in higher education, v. 41, n. 11, pp. 2044-2060.

Nunkoo, Robin; Thelwall, Mike; Ladsawut, Jeynakshi; Goolaup, Sandhiya (2020). “Three decades of tourism scholarship: Gender, collaboration and research methods”. Tourism management, v. 78, article 104056.

Office for National Statistics (2013). The gender gap in unpaid care provision: is there an impact on health and economic position?

Othman, Mazliza; Latih, Rodziah (2006). “Women in computer science: no shortage here!”. Communications of the ACM, v. 49, n. 3, pp. 111-114.

Ovseiko, Pavel; Chapple, Alison; Edmunds, Laurel; Ziebland, Sue (2017). “Advancing gender equality through the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science: an exploratory study of women’s and men’s perceptions”. Health research policy and systems, v. 15, n. 1, article 12.

Reuben, Ernesto; Sapienza, Paola; Zingales, Luigi (2014). “How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 111, n. 12, pp. 4403-4408.

Rippon, Gina (2019). The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain. Random House. ISBN: 978 1 847924766

Robnett, Rachel (2016). “Gender bias in STEM fields: Variation in prevalence and links to STEM self-concept”. Psychology of women quarterly, v. 40, n. 1, pp. 65-79.

Rørstad, Kristoffer; Aksnes, Dag (2015). “Publication rate expressed by age, gender and academic position - A large-scale analysis of Norwegian academic staff”. Journal of informetrics, v. 9, n. 2, pp. 317-333.

Rosser, Sue; Barnard, Sarah; Carnes, Molly; Munir, Fehmidah (2019). “Athena Swan and Advance: effectiveness and lessons learned”. The lancet, v. 393, n. 10171, pp. 604-608.

Sassler, Sharon; Glass, Jennifer; Levitte, Yael; Michelmore, Katherine (2017). “The missing women in STEM? Assessing gender differentials in the factors associated with transition to first jobs”. Social science research, v. 63, pp. 192-208.

Schucan-Bird, Karen (2011). “Do women publish fewer journal articles than men? Sex differences in publication productivity in the social sciences”. British journal of sociology of education, v. 32, n. 6, pp. 921-937.

Scopus (2018). How Scopus works - content.

Shapiro, Jenessa; Williams, Amy (2012). “The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ and women’s performance and interest in STEM fields”. Sex roles, v. 66, n. 3-4, pp. 175-183.

Shavarini, Meredith (2005). “The feminisation of Iranian higher education”. International review of education, v. 51, n. 4, pp. 329-347.

Sheltzer, Jason; Smith, Joan (2014). “Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 111, n. 28, pp. 10107-10112.

Sherer, Michael; Zakaria, Idlan (2018). “Mind that gap! An investigation of gender imbalance on the governing bodies of UK universities”. Studies in higher education, v. 43, n. 4, pp. 719-736.

Society of Biology (2013). Women in academic STEM careers.

Stockard, Jean; Greene, Jessica; Richmond, Geraldine; Lewis, Priscilla (2018). “Is the gender climate in chemistry still chilly? Changes in the last decade and the long-term impact of COACh-sponsored workshops”. Journal of chemical education, v. 95, n. 9, pp. 1492-1499.

Stoet, Gijsbert; Geary, David (2018). “The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education”. Psychological science, v. 29, n. 4, pp. 581-593.

Su, Rong; Rounds, James (2015). “All STEM fields are not created equal: People and things interests explain gender disparities across STEM fields”. Frontiers in psychology, v. 6, n. 189.

Su, Rong; Rounds, James; Armstrong, Patrick (2009). “Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests”. Psychological bulletin, v. 135, n. 6, pp. 859-884.

Tellhed, Una; Bäckström, Martin; Björklund, Fredrik (2017). “Will I fit in and do well? The importance of social belongingness and self-efficacy for explaining gender differences in interest in STEM and HEED majors”. Sex roles, v. 77, n. 1-2, pp. 86-96.

Tenreyro, Silvana (2017). Royal Economic Society’s report on the gender balance in UK economics departments and research institutes in 2016.

Thelwall, Mike; Bailey, Carol; Makita, Meiko; Sud, Pardeep; Madalli, Devika (2019). “Gender and research publishing in India: Uniformly high inequality?”. Journal of informetrics, v. 13, n. 1, pp. 118-131.

Thelwall, Mike; Bailey, Carol; Tobin, Catherine; Bradshaw, Noel-Ann (2019). “Gender differences in research areas, methods and topics: Can people and thing orientations explain the results?”. Journal of informetrics, v. 13, n. 1, pp. 149-169.

UNDP (2016). Human development report 2016: Human development for everyone.

US Department of Labor (2019). Postsecondary teachers.

Van-Arensbergen, Pleun; Van-der-Weijden, Inge; Van-den-Besselaar, Peter (2012). “Gender differences in scientific productivity: a persisting phenomenon?”. Scientometrics, v. 93, n. 3, pp. 857-868.

Van-den-Brink, Marieke; Benschop, Yvonne (2012). “Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs”. Organization, v. 19, n. 4, pp. 507-524.

Wang, Qi; Waltman, Ludo (2016). “Large-scale analysis of the accuracy of the journal classification systems of Web of Science and Scopus”. Journal of informetrics, v. 10, n. 2, pp. 347-364.

Watson, Catie (2019). “How much do U.S. professors earn?”. The Chron.

Welton, Tom (2016). “Building an inclusive culture in the Chemistry Department at Imperial College”. Chemistry - A European journal, v. 22, n. 11, pp. 3535-3536.

Williams, Elizabeth; Kolek, Ethan; Saunders, Daniel; Remaly, Alicia; Wells, Ryan (2018). “Mirror on the field: Gender, authorship, and research methods in higher education’s leading journals”. The journal of higher education, v. 89, n. 1, pp. 28-53.

Williams, Wendy; Ceci, Stephen (2015). “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 112, n. 17, pp. 5360-5365.

Wright, Hazel; Cooper, Linda; Luff, Paulette (2017). “Women’s ways of working: Circumventing the masculine structures operating within and upon the University”. Women’s studies international forum, v. 61, n. 2, pp. 123-131.

Xie, Yu; Shauman, Kimberlee (1998). “Sex differences in research productivity: New evidence about an old puzzle”. American sociological review, v. 63, n. 6, pp. 847-870.

Yang, Yang; Barth, Joan (2015). “Gender differences in STEM undergraduates’ vocational interests: People-thing orientation and goal affordances”. Journal of vocational behavior, v. 91, n. 1, pp. 65-75.

Young, Danielle; Rudman, Laurie; Buettner, Helen; McLean, Meghan (2013). “The influence of female role models on women’s implicit science cognitions”. Psychology of women quarterly, v. 37, n. 3, pp. 283-292.

Artículos de investigación / Research articles