Women Awarded Smaller First-Time NIH Grants Than Men

First-time National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants awarded to female principal investigators were substantially smaller than those awarded to male principal investigators, according to a research letter published in JAMA.

This gap persisted even when the scientists had similar qualifications, the authors observed.

“That means female scientists are disadvantaged from the beginning of their careers and the kind of scientific and clinical questions they ask are less likely to be answered,” study co-author Teresa Woodruff, PhD, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told Reuters in an interview. “If women are disadvantaged from the beginning of their careers, they are less likely to persist in science and medicine.”

The authors analyzed 53,903 NIH grants awarded to first-time principal investigators between 2006 and 2017. Men received median awards of $165,721 and women received median awards of $126,615, despite having similar records of publication and citation.

Disparities in funding were evident within the same institutions and across different grant types. The gap widened when researchers focused on 50 institutions with the highest amount of NIH funding: Male investigators received median awards of $134,919, and women received median awards of $93,916.

Disparities in initial funding could have far-reaching implications for future generations of doctors, she continued. “Less diversity in scientists means less diversity in how the next generation of clinicians are trained.”

The authors added that more research is needed to understand the factors that cause this disparity, including that women might be asking for less money than men or that existing gender gaps in salary might be affecting overall budgets.

Source: Reuters, March 5, 2019; Oliveira DFM, Ma Y, Woodruff TK, et al. Comparison of National Institutes of Health grant amounts to first-time male and female principal investigators. JAMA. 2019;321:898-900.