Is there bias for or against women in academia?

Note: I have left this page here for (my) historical interest, but these days, instead of reading it, you should read this bibliography maintained at LSE by people who actually know what they're doing.

This page, which I originally wrote around the turn of the century and have occasionally added to since, attempts to collect references to research which investigates in a rather objective way what difference the gender of a person, especially an academic, makes to various kinds of evaluation. (I'm not saying that subjective work isn't just as important, by the way, just that it wasn't what I was looking for!)

Here's my original query to the systers-academia list. Many thanks to all those who replied, and to those who have sent me additional comments and links since.

The "if you're going to read no further than this" take home is: yes, there is strong evidence of bias against women in academia. An important thing to know is that women, as well as men, are biased against women.

Recent additions

Papers and discussion (as written in 1999/2000)

I think what I was remembering was someone talking about this recent paper:

Steinpreis, R.E., Anders, K. A., & Ritzke, D.  The impact of gender on the review of the curricula vitae of job applicants and tenure candidates: A National Empirical Study.  Sex Roles: A Journal of Research Vol 41, Nos 7/8, 1999 pp509-528

The researchers started with two versions of the CV of a real-life (female) psychologist: the "hiring" CV she used to get a tenure track job and the "tenure" CV that she used to get tenure. For each CV they produced a version with a fictional female name and one with a fictional male name (no other differences!) They sent one of the 4 CV versions to each of 238 participants, who were academic psychologists, asking in each case whether they thought the applicant was suitable for (a) hiring (b) getting tenure (and various other things). The participants were significantly more likely to recommend the hiring of the candidate if they saw a male name on the "hiring" CV than if they saw a female name. There was no significant effect of whether the participant was male or female: women, as well as men, were biased against women. For tenuring, there was no significant difference, but this may be because the "tenure" CV used was so strong; a large majority recommended tenuring the candidate, regardless of apparent gender. I'm no experimental scientist, but to me this looks like sound, if depressing, research. Recommended reading.

Q: OK, so there's an effect, but surely it's marginal?

A: No! See the paper for details including statistical analysis, but looking naively at the graph there was a small (but not tiny: 6:5 ish) majority against hiring the female, against a large (3:1 ish) majority in favour of hiring the male. Remember, the only difference is the candidate's first name...

Several people also mentioned:

L. S. Fidell, ``Empirical Verification of Sex Discrimination in Hiring Practices in Psychology,'' in R. K. Unger and F. L. Denmark, (eds.), Women: Dependent or Independent Variable, Psychological Dimensions, New York (1975). (I've also seen a paper with the same title and author cited from American Psychologist, 25, 1094-1098, 1970.)
which is an old paper with similar results.

It's interesting to consider this research alongside the following report of a AWM panel discussion on Are Women Getting All the Jobs? Panel Discussion Tries to Defuse Mounting Tensions over ``Reverse Discrimination''!

Looking at reviewing of papers, rather than job application, some references are:

C. Wennerås and A. Wold, Nepotism and sexism in peer-review, Nature 387 341 -343; 1997. (open access version) This commentary presented evidence that reviewers' assessments of researchers' competence were statistically not fully explained by objective measures of productivity, but were also increased for male researchers and for researchers affiliated to certain institutions.
M. A. Paludi and L. A. Strayer, ``What's in an Author's Name? Different Evaluations of Performance as a Function of Author's Name,'' Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 12 (1985) pp. 353-361. This, now old, paper used a similar methodology to that described. Abstract: Three hundred college students (150 female, 150 male) were asked to evaluate an academic article in the field of politics, psychology of women, or education (judged masculine, feminine, and neutral, respectively) that was written by either a male, a female, or an author with a sexually ambiguous name. The results indicated that ratings of the articles were differentially perceived and evaluated according to the name of the author. An article written by a male was valued more positively than if the author was not male. Furthermore, subjects' bias against women was stronger when they believed that sexually neutral authors were female.
M. A. Paludi and W. D. Bauer, ``Goldberg Revisited: What's in an Author's Name,'' Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 9 (1983) pp. 387-390. Abstract almost identical to the above.
It would be particularly interesting to get hold of:
Top, Titia J. ``Sex Bias in the Evaluation of Performance in the Scientific, Artistic, and Literary Professions: A Review''. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 24 (1991) 73 -- 106. Criticism of some studies that have found bias in evaluations of work, depending on whether the judge thought the author male or female.

Cathy Kessel and others mentioned Neal Koblitz's AWM newsletter article Are Student Ratings Unfair to Women? (which does manage to include references to some material that passes the "objective" test, though for obvious reasons experiments in this area are hard to design!)


Someone wrote:
The book "Lifting a Ton of Feathers : A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World" by Paula J. Caplan addresses many such biases, and I believe cites the relevant research for the points she makes. A study I recall mentioned in the book is one where students assessed male vs. female instructors, and female instructors were consistently rated lower. It's been a while since I've read it, so my recall is sketchy, but it was a good (if somewhat sobering) read.
(I haven't read the book yet myself but what a wonderful title!)

Someone else wrote:

Another reference along these lines you might want to look at is a book that was mentioned on the systers-academia listserv about a year ago: Career Strategies for Women in Academe: Arming Athena. Editors Lynn H. Collings, Joan C. Chrisler, Kathryn Quina. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, California 91320. The reference on the listserv was to pp. 151-2 about Student Evaluations: Gender Bias and Teaching Styles. I haven't read the book, so I can't speak to the methodology or vouch for the rigor of the research. No date was given for the book, but based on a date mentioned in the summary on the listserv, the date must be sometime between 1995 and 1998.
From a bookshop search I find that the date is July 1998 and the ISBN is 0761909893 (haven't yet seen it myself).

Cathy Kessel mentions:

Why So Slow?: The Advancement of Women. Virginia Valian. 1998, MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-22054-7

Jamie Ward recommends

Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics and the Gender Wars by Margaret Wertheim. W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393317242; (September 1997)

A few web links

(note, I'm not attempting to make this another page of general women-in-academia links - there are lots of good link pages already. This is just a small collection of links that seem particularly relevant here.)

Why is this page titled the way it is?

(given that at the moment the answer is clearly "yes, against")

Basically because I plan to maintain this page, and I hope that at some time in the future I will need to update it to say No.

If you know of work that you think should be referenced on this page, please send me mail.