Men Have More Published Research Than Women, Regardless of Caregiving Responsibilities

Previous research has shown that hematologists who participated in the American Society of Hematology’s (ASH’s) Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI) experienced greater levels of academic success than those who did not, but an analysis of CRTI alumni published in Blood Advances suggested that success rates differed between male and female participants.

The authors, led by Allison A. King, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that men had more published research articles than women, irrespective of whether they self-identified as the primary caregiver for their children or adult family members. However, the researchers also observed that men with caregiving responsibilities reported less academic productivity than women with the same responsibilities and that men with caregiving responsibilities had fewer published articles than those without. The findings, which seem to minimize gender-based differences in caregiving duties as a reason for discrepancies in men’s and women’s academic success, highlight the need for continual research “to identify the reasons for disparities and implement changes to level the playing field for physician scientists,” the authors wrote.

To evaluate the effects of gender and caregiver responsibilities on academic success, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 258 CRTI alumni, including 110 men and 148 women, who participated in the program between 2003 and 2016. Participants entered the CRTI program as senior fellows or junior faculty members and intended to enter patient-oriented hematology research. The year-long mentorship and education program begins with a week-long workshop, after which participants work with faculty and peers to develop individual clinical research projects over the course of the year.

An ASH committee distributed the survey to CRTI alumni participants in 2017. Respondents answered 24 questions about their productivity in the previous 3 years. The researchers also asked to see participants’ curriculum vitae (CV) to identify how many grants and publications they had.

Academic success (the study’s primary outcome) was defined using the following variables in the previous 3 years:

  • the number of first- or senior-author peer-reviewed publications
  • the number of total publications (regardless of author position)
  • percent effort in research
  • being the principal investigator for any federal grant

In this analysis, caregiving responsibility was the primary exposure of interest. Any respondent who provided care to children or an adult family member who required assistance was considered to have caregiving responsibilities, regardless of the proportion of time spent caregiving. Other exposure variables of interest included:

  • respondents who agreed or strongly agreed that caregiving responsibilities affected their career
  • respondents who reported they were married or living with a partner
  • respondents who reported they had a partner who worked and whether that partner worked at or outside the home
  • gender
  • respondents who self-identified as an underrepresented minority

Of the 258 respondents, 169 (66%) reported they had caregiving responsibilities and 134 (52%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that child or adult caregiving responsibilities affected their career (although the authors noted that this question did not differentiate between positive versus negative effects).

There was no significant association between the number of publications/percent effort in research with agreement that caregiving responsibilities affected career. Conversely, most respondents (90%) agreed or strongly agreed that the CRTI program supported their career development as an independent researcher, with 83% stating that the CRTI was “instrumental” for remaining in a hematology research career. Agreement with the statement that “CRTI facilitated career development as an independent researcher” was significantly associated with more first-author publications (median = 4 vs. 0; p<0.0001), more total publications (median = 9 vs. 3; p=0.0004), and higher percent effort in research (median = 50% vs. 35%; p<0.0001), compared with disagreement with the statement.

When looking specifically at caregiver status, the researchers reported that survey participants who identified as having caregiving responsibilities had fewer first- or senior-author publications in their CV, compared with those who reported no caregiving responsibilities (median = 3 vs. 5; p=0.003). In addition, caregiving responsibilities were associated with a lower median percent effort in research (median = 40% vs. 50%; p=0.006).

Next, in a comparison according to gender, men had a significantly greater median number of first- or senior-author publications in their CV (4 vs. 3; p=0.002) and more total publications than women (median = 12 vs. 6.5; p=0.0002).

This gender discrepancy persisted when comparing respondents without caregiver responsibilities: Men had significantly more first- or senior-author publications (median = 6.5 vs. 4; p=0.001) and more total publications (median = 16 vs. 6; p=0.0001). However, having caregiver responsibilities appeared to have a greater negative impact on men than women.

Comparing men with and without caregiving responsibilities, caregivers had fewer first- or senior-author publications (p=0.002), fewer total publications (p=0.036), and lower percent effort in research (p=0.01). In women, there was no significant difference between those who had caregiving responsibilities versus those who did not on any of these measures of academic success.

The survey did not measure the time each respondent spent in a caregiving role, which limits the implications of the findings. In addition, the survey included participants who reported caregiving responsibilities as far back as 2003. Gender disparities may be different today than they were in 2003, which may limit the limited generalizability of the findings. In addition, CRTI participants in the later years of the cohort may have had less time to develop their careers than those who participated before 2010.

Given these results, Dr. King told ASH Clinical News that she believes journals should complete blinded reviews with regard to authorship to reduce gender disparities. “I think that women and their institutions should consider all options to offload tasks from the investigators so that faculty can focus on their science and disseminating the work,” she added. “For example, if administrative support is available to faculty, make sure that all faculty can have that support.”

The authors report no relevant conflicts of interest.

References

King AA, Vesely SK, Vettese E, et al. Impact of gender and caregiving responsibilities on academic success in hematology. Blood Adv. 2020;4:755-761.