Gender and Citation in International Relations

Via Political Violence at a Glance, Dan Maliniak, Ryan Powers and Barbara Walter have a forthcoming article in International Organization, which finds that articles written by women for the top journals in international relations are systematically undercited.

There are a number of possible explanations for why this gap may exist. First, men and
women tend to work at different institutions … women may publish less in the early years of their careers as a result of their need to take parental leave …fewer publications early in one’s career could translate into fewer citations over time. … men and women tend to study different substantive issues. … men are more likely to write articles on security, U.S. foreign policy, and methods. Women are more likely to write articles on human rights, comparative foreign policy, health, international law, and the environment. … women reported that they are more likely to employ constructivism and feminism than their male counterparts … [controlling for various factors listed above] [o]ur all-male model predicts articles authored by only women should have 4.7 more citations than they actually received
… [employing] the widely used HITS algorithm developed by Kleinberg … [a]rticles written by female authors are not only being cited less, but authors of the most influential articles are citing them less often … women in IR … cite their [own] work at significantly lower rates than men … [but] the gender gap in citations continues even when we remove self-citations … The second possible explanation has to do with informal agreements made amongst a group of scholars to cite each other … If men were more apt to form such alliances than women, or had more opportunity to do so given their larger numbers or more extensive social networks, then this informal collaboration could account for the higher rate of citations for men … We have no definitive evidence that such informal arrangements exist or that they are more prevalent among men than women … The evidence we do have, however, reveals that citations appear to split along gender lines. Men tend to cite maleauthored articles more than female-authored articles and women tend to cite female-authored articles more than male-authored articles. This difference alone could account for the gender gap in citations since the number of men in IR is significantly higher than women.

6 Responses to Gender and Citation in International Relations

  1. RobC April 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Wouldn’t another possible explanation for the so-called citation gap be that the scholarship of the articles by female authors is weaker than the scholarship of the articles by male authors? (What might account for such a phenomenon? Lower standards for entry into the profession for female academics, lower standards for publication of articles by female authors, greater time pressures on female authors from competing professional and family demands, some other reason?)

    That’s only a theoretical possibility, not an explanation I’m proposing, but it does seem as if it should at least be tossed into the discussion. The only reason not to do so, as far as I can see, is that some subjects are just too hot to be mentioned, even by tenured professors with lifetime job security. As I wrote in a different thread a while back, there be dragons.

    • Anonymous April 6, 2013 at 10:44 am #


      Sure, there are literally hundreds of possible explanations for this result. However, some explanations are more plausible than others. The point is to investigate and test those theories that are the most plausible. I think the point that TC is making is that your explanation really isn’t as plausible as others.

      To take your explanation seriously, would require you to justify theoretically the claim that “the articles by female authors is weaker than the scholarship of the articles by male authors”. At this point, I don’t see any theoretical arguments that would make this plausible.

      So, I ask you, on why would female authors’ scholarship be weaker than men in IR?

      If there is a plausible (e.g. theoretical) answer to this “why” question, then your alternative explanation is worthy of further investigation.

      • Lawrence Zigerell April 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

        The argument for the inclusion of a control variable for article quality does not depend on anyone’s ability to provide a theoretical reason to expect the quality of female IR scholarship to be different than the quality male IR scholarship.

        Rather, the argument for the inclusion of a control variable for article quality is that article quality has a theoretical relationship with the dependent variable of article citation counts: “…citation counts have historically been viewed as a relatively objective and important measure of the quality and impact of research,” as the authors write.

        The model for article citation counts included control variables measuring article age, not because there is some theoretical reason to expect article age to matter more or less for female-authored articles, but because article age has a theoretical relationship to article citation counts (p. 16).

        The authors are attempting to explain article citation counts, so their model should have contained all variables theoretically related to article citation counts, regardless of whether these variables are theoretically related to the explanatory variable that they choose to spotlight.

  2. TC April 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Rob C,
    Do you have any evidence that any of the possibilities you cite as potential reasons for a theoretical ‘weaker’ female scholarship exist? For example, is there any research to suggest that there are lower standards for entry for women into the profession? I am not an IR person, but looking at the overall percentages of women in the profession, particularly when you break it down by type of institution, there are far fewer women than men in the discipline. That doesn’t sound like the bar is being lowered for women to even out the numbers to me.

    As far as the idea that there is the possibility of “lower standards for publications of articles for female authored articles”, since journal articles are double blind peer reviewed, the reviewers should not know the gender of the authors when they review an article. However, it is possible that a difference in the types of subjects and methods used by women and men may indicate to a reviewer the likely gender.

    In all seriousness, I would like to see more research, or any research, that supports any of your speculations.

    • RobC April 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      TC, I don’t have evidence of the theoretical possibility I mentioned. That’s why it’s only a theoretical possibility. The authors of the article discussed a couple of possible explanations for the citation gap. One was the possible existence of citation groups–informal agreements among scholars to cite each other. The authors note, “We have no definitive evidence that such informal arrangements exist,” though they say “stories abound in the halls of academia.” So apparently some theoretical possibilities are worthy not only of mention, but of study. Others are not.

      I presume we all agree that some academic publications are stronger in scholarship than others; they’re not all equal. Surely one possible explanation for the difference in citations is that the more often cited articles are believed to be stronger in scholarship. Are we to ignore that possibility, to pretend that it doesn’t even exist, because it runs counter to an article of faith about female academics producing scholarship that’s as good as scholarship produced by males? That seems to elevate faith over science.

      So essentially you and I agree. You say you’d like to see more research into these possibilities. So would I. Though I’d settle in the interim for simply an acknowledgment that, as a matter of logic, a difference in the scholarly worth of the articles is a possible explanation for the citation gap. If there’s evidence disproving that possible explanation, it should be discussed. If there’s not, the boilerplate comment that more research is needed can be trotted out, even though few are likely to be foolhardy enough to tackle a subject so fraught with peril.

  3. Andrew Gelman April 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Let me pick up on the difference between subfields. I don’t know much about citation patterns in political science, but I know that journals in biology have much higher rates than journals in statistics. The top stat journals have citation indexes comparable to those of mediocre biology journals. Biology papers cite each other a lot. So if you compare aggregate or average citation patterns in a group that contains a mixture of statisticians and biologists, I’d expect that any characteristic that is correlated with being a biologist will also be correlated with higher citation counts.