Monitoring women's scholarly production during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Philippe Vincent-Lamarre, Cassidy R. Sugimoto and Vincent Larivière

We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Social stratification is particularly visible in times of crisis and the current pandemic has made manifest many social distinctions. One of these is the disproportionate amount of domestic labor done by women: women do more parenting in partnered heterosexual relationships and are more likely to be single parents. Shelter-in-place orders have sent more than 1.2 billion learners across the world from the classroom back into the home and they are met by their mothers, as women are more likely to have shifted to remote work. The scientific workforce has moved into the home, where the unequal distribution of domestic labor follows societal norms (even in academic couples) and where male faculty are four time more likely to have a partner engaged in full domestic care than their female colleagues. The context suggests that women scholars may be more likely to face an intensification of domestic responsibilities during confinement and, consequently, a reduction in scholarly production.

Given the significant uptake in the incentives and use of preprints and registered reports, a few early analyses have used those to document the phenomenon: women economists were shown to have a drop in production of preprints and registered reports in March and April and were less likely to work on COVID-related topics. Similarly, over the last three months male authors on arXiv and bioRxiv increased at a greater rate than women authors. Our own analysis builds on data from 11 pre-print repositories and three platforms, for a total of 327,902 documents. This work demonstrates the disproportionate effect on early career researchers (using authorship position as a proxy for seniority in science).

We have created this dynamic and interactive website to allow policy makers, scientists, and administrators to monitor this evolving situation. As of May 18th 2020, the data covers 284,842 pre-prints and registered reports, which will be updated on a regular basis.

There are longstanding disparities in scientific production, with both social and scientific implications. As we note in our article: “As the effects and the pandemic are likely to linger, we must consider how our evaluation systems and resource allocation mechanisms take into account the inequities in labour distribution for women and other minorities. A robust scientific environment requires the participation of all members of the population; a crisis requires that we draw from the intellect of the full population. We must create infrastructures to allow for all populations to participate, and to acknowledge systematic differences in their ability to do so. The pandemic will subside, but these inequities will not. A long-term commitment to equity in science will help us to not only survive this crisis, but to be stronger when we emerge.”

Percentage of women first, middle, last authorship, by preprint repository (arXiv, bioRxiv, medRxiv), July 2019 to May 2020


This project is a collaboration between the Canada Research Chair on the Transformations of Scholarly Communication of Université de Montréal (Prof. Vincent Larivière and Dr. Philippe Vincent-Lamarre) and Indiana University (Prof. Cassidy R. Sugimoto).

This dashboard was created by Philippe Nazair, coordinator of the digital initiatives at the CIRST research center.

CIRST is Canada's main interdisciplinary cluster of researchers studying the historical, social, political, philosophical and economic dimensions of science and technology. Its work aims to advance our knowledge of these areas, and to help apply them to policies as well as to the resolution of timely social issues that have an important scientific or technological component.

You can find more of our projects in computational social sciences here .