Wiebke Wemheuer-Vogelaar

About “The Gender Gap in IR and Political Science”

This is my first post on and from APSA 2013 in Chicago. It concerns the increasingly intense debate on a gender gap in International Relations and Political Science. This issue has been raised from different angles and at different places, e.g. the discussion on networking over at the Duck . Another object that fueled recent discussions is the article “The Gender Citation Gap in IR” by Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers and Barbara Walter published in the latest issue of IO (see here). Since Maliniak et al. work with citation data, as do I, and are direct colleagues of mine at TRIP, it was their contribution to the panel that attracted my attention in the first place. However, the overall event turned out to me very inspiring and I would like to share the panelists’ main points with you.

The Gender Citation Gap (Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, Barbara Walter)

Maliniak et al.’s is probably the best known work amongst those presented (see e.g. the discussions over at Monkey Cage, the Duck, and Political Violence @ a Glance. The article is based on the TRIP journal dataset which includes the top-12 IR journals for the years 1980-2006 (for a list of these journals see Maliniak et al., p. 14). The authors started out with a set of observations from the TRIP surveys, including that women are more likely to work with qualitative methods, write more about human rights and less about security, and tend more towards constructivism than male colleagues do. All of these factors are known to have a negative effect on citation counts.

Controlling for these factors, amongst others, Maliniak et al. predicted numbers of citations for three different groups: articles written by a man or men, articles with mixed co-authorship, and those written by a woman or women. While articles with male authorship and co-authorship did about as well as predicted, articles by women gained nearly five citations less within in the same period of time. Although this might sound like finickiness to some of you, it might easily translate into structural discrimination when academic positions, including tenure, are granted based on publication records.

The stunning thing about this study is that this citation gap is not explicable with the content or format of the authors’ articles. Maliniak et al. therefore looked at dyadic citation data (who is citing whom?) and based on that suggest two main explanations: 1) men tend to cite men more often than women, and women cite women more often, having more men in the discipline than women makes the difference; and 2) the practice to cite your own articles (a lot) tends to be more common amongst men than women.

Gender Issues and Teaching (Lisa Martin)

While citations measure the visibility and effectiveness of people’s research activities they cannot tell anything about the just as important academic task of teaching. Lisa Martin made the effort to analyze teaching evaluations of lecturers at US-American political science departments. Her central finding was that while female lecturers are judged just as good as their male colleagues in small class room settings, they get significantly lower grades from medium (>99) and large (>199) classes. Martin’s hypothesis on this is that while men are expected to appear professional and authoritative, female lecturers are also expected to behave kindly and caring.

Martin’s second source of data were statistics on MOOCs. MOOCs are online classes that aim at a global and unlimited audience. It turns out that a vast majority of them in the field of IR are taught by men. That means that the IR teachings of men are much wider spread than those of women, which does not only cause a gender imbalance, but also one in research topics displayed, since those are unequally distributed (cp. Maliniak et al./TRIP data above).

Women’s Career Paths at US Political Science Departments (Sara McLaughlin Mitchell)

Sara Mitchell discussed the following two topics: 1) female scholars’ way up the academic career ladder, and 2) their engagement in university committees and other academic services. Since it directly addresses decisions of and strategies for young scholars, I was more attracted by the former and will therefore restrict my accounts to that. Mitchell and her colleagues at the University of Iowa conducted a survey amongst all faculty members in political science departments in the United States. Methodologically not unlike Maliniak et al., Mitchell et al. calculated predictions for academic ranks for men and women in their sample based on their achievements in research, teaching, academic service, resources, and background and demography (see Mitchel et al., p. 4). It turned out that women are around 50 per cent less likely to rank associate professors rather than assistant than are their male colleagues with similar attributes (I say “around 50 per cent, because they ran different models in which the odds ratio between the two groups varied between .407 and .681).

Surprising to me was the finding that having children was not amongst the statistically significant factors. Years to finish your PhD however was. Asked upon whether having children during graduate school then did not automatically prolong the time spend there and thus contribute to this result, Mitchell responded that only scholars with a completed PhD were in the sample, and all child-baring drop-outs (my phrase, not her’s) therefore excluded.

Structural Impediments to Moving Up the Ladder (Anne-Marie Slaughter)

Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article on Why Women Still Can’t Have It All for the American magazine “Atlantic Monthly” in June 2012, in which she explained how she considered to step back from a high political office in Washington in favor of her kids. The article triggered a pretty huge discussion about the pay-off between women’s and feminists’ values (it even reached Germany through in interview in Spiegel magazine). Thus, on the panel Slaughter did not so much present empirical findings on women’s position in academia but rather talked about her own experiences. To be honest her speech did not give me much to think about. Still, her message that the feminist claim of “women can have both career and family” is simply not true is one that will stick.

I learned later today that Anne-Marie Slaughter decided to quit academia for good and return to Washington. Conclusions on this fact remain to be drawn.

Remedies and the Light at the End of the Tunnel (Beth Simmons…and me)

If you (especially the women amongst you) have not build up a somewhat gloomy and pessimistic feeling in your guts from reading this, then I failed in transmitting the vibe lying on the conference room. All papers and speeches talked about grave and somehow inexplicable dispositions for women. Our articles do not get cited enough, our classes are not appreciated, and even if they would be, we would not be promoted anyways. Should we, against all odds and predictions, reach a high position, we will turn schizophrenic in the effort of balancing our families and careers. Not that bright a picture to have in mind while bending over your dissertation work and class schedules, is it?

Luckily, Beth Simmons reminded us that not all is as bad as it seems. There are three positive lessons to be taken home: 1) all time trends in any of the studies presented indicates that the situation is steadily and exponentially improving; 2) all data presented tend to speak of and for the disciplines of IR or political science, but in fact only captured the situation in the US academy – whether the findings hold true for e.g. Europe is an open question and I personally doubt that they do; and 3) the topic is now out there and it can be tackled by anyone of us; and has been taken serious by many before us.

The question then is what exactly should be done. It became obvious during the course of the panel that the choice is either to “lean-in”, as Lisa Martin phrased it, or to fight back. For the concrete example of the gender citation gap Barbara Walter recommended women to cite their own work more often and called for all supervisors (presumably men) to take their female graduate students to networking events more often in order to introduce them to (presumably male) big-shots and multipliers. While the value of networking for young IR scholars is a hot topic at the moment and its general value is undeniable from my point of view, the case for leaning in into “male” practices in publishing is much more disputable. Maybe women should not feel “dirty” about such self-promoting practices as unnecessary self-citations and just play the game – or maybe the game actually is dirty and we should collectively rethink its rules.

Last but not least some words on the audience. The turnout was modest, around 90 people were in the room. Not surprising, but nevertheless shocking, was the gender ratio of about 86:4. The room was thus full of predominantly young and some tenured female scholars. It is good to know about the structural imbalance in the discipline and to discuss the remedies amongst ourselves – but preaching to the converted cannot be the end of it. Therefore, chapeau towards those men that cared/dared to attend (amongst them Thomas Risse) and especially Bob Keohane, who served as discussant and presented the paper of absent colleague Lisa Martin.


  1. Zoe

    Thanks for writing this – great to hear from someone who was “on the ground” during one of these discussions.

    It would be really interesting to know if/how this is different in Europe, and what the reasons for that might be.

  2. Wiebke Wemheuer-Vogelaar

    Thanks Zoe. To find out the reasons why will be a longer process, but I am working on the citation data for Europe. My hypothesis would be that countries with higher gender equality in other areas of society show smaller citation gaps.

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