Women are less prominent in the social network of financial economics because of men

Despite networking more in order to improve a paper, women are less central in the social network of financial economics. Is it because of men?


Spurred by the observation that female scientists are on average less successful than their male counterparts, there is increasing interest in understanding this “productivity puzzle”. Women publish less and less prestigous. And this really matters: Women are less often tenured and receive less prizes.

They are also less central in the social network of informal collaboration, as we show in our various research. Of the 100 most betweeneess central (a measure of importance in information flow) or the 100 most eigenvector central (a measure of influence) researchers, not even 15% are female. (Head over to our rankings to see them online.) In an unpublished manuscript, Ductor, Goyal and Prummer (2017) for example show that female Economists have less co-authors on average, but tend to collaborate more often with them.

This suggest that female researchers participate less in the global flow of knowledge, which seems to be so crucial for research. Let’s see why women are less central in the social network of financial economics.

Our dataset contains a total of 14529 researchers that somehow appeared in published research articles in major finance journals (JF, RFS, JFE, JFI, JMCB, JBF) between 1997 and 2011, either as author or as acknowledged commenter, or both. Based on the researchers firstnames I estimated their gender with genderize.io: Varying from year to year, 15% to 20% are female, which in itself is a very low number (there are some undetermined first names which I report as unknowns). In increased over time, which is probably a good sign. 18% of the authors are female, comparing to 11% of all acknowledged commenters (including authors when they have been acknowedledged).

The first observation is that women are acknowledged less often. Over all the years, each male is on average acknowledged 5.5 times for helpful comments. His female counterpart is acknowledged less than 4 times. There is however some improvement over the years, as seen from below graphic:

Why is this? A long standing hypothesis is that women network differently (read: less effective). There is anecdotal evidence that women shy away from networking.

We can check this too, because our dataset does not only contain information on who acknowledged whom, but also on who presented where on seminars and conferences. I classify articles according to their gender composition as (all-)male, mixed, and (all-)female, with the few unknowns assuming to be male.

Here a very interesting picture emerges: Articles written by women report more informal collaboration per person than articles written by males only, not less. Mixed author groups interestingly report the lowest intensive margin of all the three groups. (The extensive margin, i.e. the propensitiy to acknowledge, is very stable over all the groups with close to 85% of all articles).

As the following graphs shows, female authors speak to 50% more commenters per author during the writing, present at 30% more conferences or seminars. Though the standard deviations are higher for articles written by females only, the differences between the groups are higly statistically significant, as pairwise independent t-tests reveal.

Why is it then that women are acknowledged less often? It’s not that women do not go out and make use of their network – it’s the men who do not talk to women: The average share of acknowledged female commenters is about 9% for papers written by males only, about 11% for mixed-author papers, and 12% for articles written by females only. The groups are pairwise highly statistically significant except for mixed vs. females.

Pooling articles written by at least one women already makes this very obvious: The t-test statistic by comparing articles written by males only with articles written by at least one women is -5.17 with p=0.0 – the mere fact that a women writes an article completely changes the gender composition of acknowledged commenters significantly.

This echoes a recent nature blog post: “Women aren’t failing at science, science is failing at women”. In our case it is “male scientists are failing at women”.

  • Ductor, Lorenzo, Sanjeev Goyal and Anja Prummer (2017) ‘Gender and Social Networks‘, unpublished manuscript.