Women's research activity takes a hit

Women shoulder more household labor than men, and it shows in how much work female researchers have been able to complete during the coronavirus pandemic, according to analysis reviewed in Nature


New analysis suggests one way in which the pandemic is disproportionately hurting the productivity of female STEM researchers: They have posted fewer preprints than their male peers, according to Nature. A preprint is a full draft research paper that is shared publicly before peer review.

These early findings are consistent with other research on the division of labor among academics. Nature cites evidence showing male academics are more likely to have a partner who does not work outside the home. Female academics are more likely to have a partner who is also an academic, but even in those dual-academic households, evidence shows women perform more household labor than men.

Megan Frederickson, PhD, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology for University of Toledo, initiated her analysis on preprints while socially isolated with her 6-year-old child. Her examination of submissions to two preprint servers — arXiv and bioRxiv — across disciplines found the rate at which women published preprints has fallen relative to the rate at which men did during the pandemic. 

For one server, arXiv, the number of preprints with male authors submitted in late March and early April 2020 grew by nearly twice the rate as the number of submitted preprints with female authors compared to to the same dates in 2019.

Dr. Frederickson notes that pandemic lockdowns have so far been relatively short compared with the usual research timeline, meaning the long-term implications of compromised productivity for women's careers are unclear.

"How long this effect will persist and what its downstream consequences might be for journal publications and academic careers are open questions," she writes.

For leaders who oversee or work with scientists and researchers, Dr. Frederickson said her early findings suggest a need for greater nuance when discussing and measuring productivity. 

"Down the line, it's going to be important for hiring decisions, promotion decisions and decisions about salary to not focus too much on productivity during this period, because it will be so different among people who have had different experiences in this pandemic,” Dr. Frederickson told Becker's Hospital Review. "There are so many variables that affect how scientists are working, many of which are harder to measure, like who is a parent, who isn't a parent, who is grieving, who is taking care of their parents and more."

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