Women’s academic work has fewer citations because we don’t cite our own work

According to Barbara Walter, of the University of California, San Diego, female academics don’t engage in as much self promotion as their male colleagues.

“Unlike their male colleagues they do not routinely cite their own previous work when they publish a paper. Since the frequency a paper is cited is an indicator of its importance—and one which, since it can be measured, tends to weigh with appointment committees—a systematic unwillingness by women to self-cite may help tip the balance against them.”

Read more at the Economist:

8 thoughts on “Women’s academic work has fewer citations because we don’t cite our own work

  1. I’m not opposed (at least generally) to self promotion, or to self-citation when the cite is relevant, but I’d always thought that serious citation studies tried to account for, and discount, self-citations. Is that wrong? (I can’t say I feel certain why I’d thought this, so maybe I have no good reason for thinking it.)

  2. For those interested, the original article is here: https://www.princeton.edu/politics/about/file-repository/public/IO-Final-April-2-2013.pdf

    As I read it, there is really clear evidence that works by women authors receive fewer citations. (Boo! Terrible news!) However, the self-citation section was rather brief (p. 38-40) and does not attempt to control for other variables, unlike the main finding.

    In that section, Walters et al. show that works by women authors tend to cite fewer works by (one of) the same authors. But that is a step away from claiming that women academic do not engage in as much self-promotion. Specifically, there is no control for the number of works authored by women academics themselves, or the size of the pool of self-citation. Without controlling for that, the data presented do not yet provide support for the behavioral tendency claim. It’s also worth noting that, as Walters et al. clarify in footnote 45, the sample used for the self-citation analysis is different from, and smaller than, the sample used for the main finding.

  3. Shen-yi’s point is really well taken.

    And it’s also worth noting that *even if* we had conclusive evidence that women self-cite less than men do, that would be only a very tiny part of the explanation of why women are in general less well cited than men. Self-citations are a drop in the bucket compared to overall citations. So unless we had good reason to think that self-citation leads to citation by others (on a large scale) – which seems dubious to me – self-citation seems like it’s playing a limited role in the bigger picture of women’s under-citation.

  4. Honestly, I think the take-away message has more to do with differently internalized norms of things like “self-promotion.” This study helps us see how it’s gendered, and in a way that disproportionately affects women authors. This point is coming up a lot in my news feed with people saying on blogs that it’s inappropriate, for example, to Facebook that one has a new publication. And yet studies like this show us that men are more likely to do that *sort* of thing. Self-promotion is looked at, in some instances, as “careerist” when women do it, but neutral or positive when men do it.

    Let’s not get bogged down on whether this explains the under-citation of women in academic publishing.

  5. Well, the actual topic of this blog post is the idea that self-promotion explains the under-citation of women in academic publishing, so I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that the commenters discussing it are “getting bogged down”.

    Is it true that men’s academic self-promotion is looked at in a positive or neutral way? Members of my department warned me (I’m a pre-tenure man) that anything smacking of self-promotion would be counterproductive to my scholarly reputation. I just accepted this advice. Maybe it’s wrong.

  6. It’s 2013, people. Information is shared through social media. There is nothing wrong with letting your colleagues know about a new paper. (Now, doing it once a day — that would be annoying self-promotion). Castigating those who share such information though social media, or who *appropriately* self-cite, needs to stop. It doesn’t help anyone and is hurtful to women and others who may take the message more to heart.

  7. @Rachel

    I agree that is the message that is getting a lot of press, and perhaps even what Walters as the takeaway. However, my point is that the paper itself is not really about the self-citation difference, and that the data on self-citation does not clearly show that there are different internalized norms for men and women academics. So, the study does not actually show the existence of such a gendered norm. Specifically, the study does not show that, as you put it, “men are more likely to do that *sort* of thing” without controlling for factors such as the articles available to self-cite.

    (Of course, the gendered norm might well exist. In the popular articles, Walters focuses on her own anecdotal experience. My point is just that, insofar we’re looking for a rigorous empirical demonstration of such a norm, this ain’t it.)

    And yes, as Bryce Jr. says, the title of this blog post makes a causal claim and then cites this study. I think it’s relevant — and not just getting bogged down — to look at the study itself and see if it provides strong support for that causal claim.

Comments are closed.