Friday, January 8, 2016

Advice to female economists: Don't coauthor with men

[Harvard economics graduate student Heather] Sarsons compiled data on the publication records of young economists recruited by top universities in the United States over the last 40 years. ...

While women in the field publish as much as men, they are twice as likely to perish. And this higher rate for women being denied tenure persists even after accounting for differences in tenure rates across universities, the different subfields of economics that women work in, the quality of their publications and other influences that may have changed over time.

But Ms. Sarsons discovered one group of female economists who enjoyed the same career success as men: those who work alone. Specifically, she says that “women who solo author everything have roughly the same chance of receiving tenure as a man.” ...

Here is where it gets interesting. When an economist writes a paper on her own, there is no question about who deserves the credit. Each additional solo research paper raises the probability of getting tenure by about 8 or 9 percent, she calculated. The career benefit from publishing a solo paper is about the same for women as it is for men. But unlike women, men also get just as much credit for collaborative research, and there is no statistical difference in the career prospects of authors of individually written papers and those of papers written as part of a research team. ...

When women write with men, their tenure prospects don’t improve at all. That is, women get essentially zero credit for the collaborative work with men. Papers written by women in collaboration with both a male and female co-author yield partial credit. It is only when women write with other women that they are given full credit. ...

Interestingly, Ms. Sarsons has performed a parallel analysis of the field of sociology. In contrast to economics, there are no discernible differences in how men and women are given credit for joint work. One possible reason for this happier finding is that sociologists explicitly describe who deserves the most credit in a collaboration, by listing that person as the first author. This explicit attribution eliminates the need to make inferences, reducing the scope for sexist judgments. By contrast, economists list authors alphabetically, and the ensuing ambiguity may give greater space for sexist stereotypes to express themselves. Another possibility is that sociologists, many more of whom are women, are simply less sexist than economists. ...

As for Ms. Sarsons, a young economist who will have to navigate this thicket, she is taking her own advice. Her paper begins by saying, “This paper is intentionally solo-authored.”
--Justin Wolfers, NYT, on attribution bias