Gender and Age Bias in Peer Review in Earth and Space Science Journals

Jory Lerback,1 Brooks Hanson2

Objective The American Geophysical Union (AGU) publishes 20 journals with approximately 6000 articles and 24,000 reviews annually. We studied the gender differences and dynamics in publishing and reviewing. This has been studied in other disciplines, but these studies have mostly assigned gender to first names (we have self-reported gender), had smaller sample sizes, and/or have not accounted for age.

Design We analyzed membership demographic data and editorial data from the AGU from 2012 to 2016. We analyzed activities in the publications database, looking at demographic data for 23,985 distinct reviewers, 29,927 first authors, 97,120 reviewer suggestions by authors, and 151,484 reviewer invitations by editors. Age is important to include because the proportion of women researchers decreases as age increases; accounting for age is needed to reveal some otherwise hidden gender differences.

Results Female first authors had higher acceptance rates than men across all age cohorts (61% vs 58%; χ²1 [n = 29,187] = 20.057). Women make up 27% of first authors (n = 9,909), 24% of all authors (n = 18,710), and 30% of AGU membership (n = 77,668) (Table). Despite this, women were not utilized as reviewers (21%) as much as expected based on these rates (χ²1 first authors = 145.396 [n = 33,395]; P < .001; χ²1 all authors = 50.958 [n = 47,081] ; P < .001; χ²1 members = 629.231 [n = 101,694]; P < .001, respectively). Although the proportion of female reviewers increased from 2012 to 2016, this gap persisted and was consistent throughout age cohorts of the suggested reviewers. This difference began with authors, who suggested male reviewers more than expected (male authors suggested 16% female reviewers [n=75,672]; female authors suggested 22% (n=21,488). Male editors subsequently invited only 18% female reviewers, whereas female editors invited 22%. This difference in suggestions partly parallels coauthor networks, in which male first authors tend to have other males as collaborators (16% [n= 55,102]), whereas female first authors had collaborators that more closely represented the gender-age distribution of the research population (22% [n=18,710]).

Conclusions We found that women are not being included in activities related to peer review processes as frequently as their male peers in Earth and space journals.

1Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, jory.lerback@gmail.com; 2American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Additional Contributions: We thank the American Geophysical Union for providing data.

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