Evidence from peer review that women are held to higher standards


Erin Hengel in VOX EU:

According to raw numerical counts, women produce less than men. For example, female real estate agents list fewer homes (Seagraves and Gallimore 2013); female lawyers bill fewer hours (Azmat and Ferrer 2017); female physicians see fewer patients (Bloor et al. 2008); and female academics write fewer papers (Ceci et al. 2014).

Yet there is another side to female productivity that is often ignored – when evaluated by narrowly defined quality measures, women often outperform. For example, houses listed by female real estate agents sell for higher prices (Salter et al. 2012, Seagraves and Gallimore 2013); female lawyers make fewer ethical violations (Hatamyar and Simmons 2004); and patients treated by female physicians are less likely to die or be readmitted to hospital (Tsugawa et al. 2017).

In a recent study, I show that female economists surpass men on another dimension: writing clarity (Hengel 2017). Using five readability measures, I find that female-authored articles published in top economics journals are better written than equivalent papers by men.

Why? Because they have to be. In a model of an author's decision-making process, I show that tougher editorial standards and/or biased referee assignment are uniquely consistent with women's observed pattern of choices. I then document evidence that higher standards affect behaviour and lower productivity.

Higher standards impose a quantity/quality trade-off that likely contributes to academia’s ‘publishing paradox’ and ‘leaky pipeline’. Spending more time revising old research means there's less time for new research. Fewer papers results in fewer promotions, possibly driving women into fairer fields. Moreover, evidence of this trade-off is present in a variety of occupations – such as doctors, lawyers and real estate agents — suggesting higher standards distort women’s productivity, more generally.

More here.