Number of women authors published in medical journals has plateaued, study finds

First authors in medical journals — who generally lead research and get the most credit — are overwhelmingly male, according to a recent study published by The BMJ.

"Given the importance of publication for tenure and promotion, women's publication in high impact journals also provides insights into the degree to which the gender gap can be expected to close," the authors wrote.

The study found female first authorship grew 10 percentage points over the past decade — from 27 percent in 1994 to 37 percent in 2014. However, these gains are tempered with a deceleration in progress. Researchers found gains in female first authorship plataued or declined at every journal studied after 2009. Some journals were also much more likely than others to publish female first authors. For example, The BMJ was 30 percent more likely than the average to publish a female first author, while NEJM was 40 percent less likely than the average to do so.

The six medical journals studied include Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA-Internal Medicine, JAMAThe Lancet, NEJM and The BMJ itself. The researchers used nearly 3,900 articles from even-numbered months across the study period to ensure a robust, representative sample was used.

The study did not determine a reason for the recent slow in female first authorship, but the authors suggested the trends could be a result of changes in the manuscript review process, the presence or absence of female leadership or that female authors may submit more to certain journals over others. Interestingly, the authors found the four journals with female editors-in-chief had the highest rates of female first authorship from 2009 to 2014.

 

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