New study suggests women’s papers receive greater critical scrutiny

But that headline doesn’t even scratch the surface of how interesting this study is.  Erin Hengel examined papers by economists in top journals.  She found:

  • Women’s papers took longer from submission to publication
  • Women’s abstracts were more readable than men’s (employing standard measures of readability)
  • Women’s papers improved in readability than men’s, during the transition from draft to final published version.
  • Women’s abstracts’ readability continued to improve steadily throughout their careers, while men’s did not– leading to a very large gap in readability for senior women.


Hengel suggests that this may offer us a partial explanation for the often-noted productivity gap between men and women.  If women are revising their papers more, and spending longer bringing them up to a higher standard, they are likely to publish more slowly.  After considering several explanations, she concludes that the most likely one is that referees are tougher on women’s work than on men’s.

Thanks, L, for letting me know about this study!


4 thoughts on “New study suggests women’s papers receive greater critical scrutiny

  1. It’d be interesting to repeat this analysis in a discipline with double-blind peer review. Ironically, if women really do learn to write differently from men (on average), it will be easier for reviewers to identify women authors just from their writing style.

    I’m also curious about the segregation of men and women across subfields. In economics, this is quite pronounced: women are more likely to be in labor economics, health economics, and consumer economics (relative to their overall share in economics), and men are more likely to be in theoretical economics, econometrics, and behavioral economics. The standards for communication in these subfields differ because the presumed audience differs: papers in the “theoretical” subfields aren’t really intended to be read by non-specialists, whereas there’s some hope that papers in the “applied” fields will be relevant to industry specialists or policy makers.

    (Of course, the sorting of men and women into subfields, and the unequal social status the discipline attaches to different subfields, is an interesting social process in its own right.)

  2. This is a really interesting paper and i just want to double down on the recommendation that folk check it out. I have some earlier published work ( that had predicted that something like this would be true as a consequence of my explanation of the publication rate differences between men and women. My own work was based upon the conjectures put forward by Carole Lee in her earlier still published work on related topics ( Folk interested in the general area may also want to check those papers out.

    I’d also like to note that emailed Dr Hengel about these papers after I first saw her working draft; in her (very fascinating and gracious) response she noted that she may be able to expand this explanatory pattern to women’s work and presence in other professional fields outside academia. She’s currently looking into it, so I’d recommend people keep tabs on her work because there may well be even more fascinating stuff to come.

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