UW News

August 29, 2023

Researchers prefer same-gender co-authors, UW study shows

A group of people at a table with papers and water bottles.

Research from the University of Washington and Cornell University suggest a behavioral component is in play when scientists seek out collaborators.Pixabay

Researchers are more likely to write scientific papers with co-authors of the same gender, a pattern that can’t be explained by varying gender representations across scientific disciplines and time.

A new study from the University of Washington and Cornell University, recently published in PLOS One, finds consistent gender homophily — the tendency of authors to collaborate with others who share their gender — in a digital collection of 560,000 published research articles over a 50-year period. While this observation is not new, researchers also used novel methods to rule out seemingly logical explanations for the pattern, such as a field’s gender balance or authorship norms for writing research papers.

The findings suggest a behavioral component is in play when scientists seek out collaborators.

“Researchers use social discretion when choosing their collaborators,” said Carole Lee, co-author and associate professor of philosophy at the UW. “Do they express this by choosing same-gender co-authorship teams? How can we study this at a scale that includes multiple fields while also respecting the diversity of authorship demographics and practices at finer-grained levels?”

The research team, comprised of scholars in statistics, information science, biology and philosophy, mined articles published between 1960 and 2011 from the online repository JSTOR. To help link genders to more than 800,000 author names, the team relied on social security records and crowdsourced data. Because of limitations in the data, this research was restricted to those who identify as men and women and didn’t include nonbinary and intersex identities.

The team then grouped authors from the same fields and eras, creating 50,000 hypothetical reconfigurations of authors.

“We re-simulated hypothetical datasets. Our thinking was: How different is what we actually observed versus these hypothetical scenarios that we constructed,” said Y. Samuel Wang, co-author and assistant professor at Cornell who was a doctoral student in statistics at the UW when he started this research. “Very different, it turns out. This suggests that some other source of homophily is occurring in the data we observed.”

The team can’t say definitively why researchers tend to collaborate with those of the same gender. Data science methods can’t measure intent, but Wang said the findings suggest consideration of gender may be a factor.

Other co-authors from the UW were Jevin West, associate professor in the UW Information School; Carl Bergstrom, professor of biology; and Elena A. Erosheva, professor of statistics and of social work. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the UW Royalty Research Fund. 

Adapted from a Cornell University press release.

For more information, contact Lee at c3@uw.edu and Erosheva at erosheva@uw.edu.