For female astronomers, the COVID-19 pandemic widened publishing’s gender gap: Productivity increased for all astronomers in first two years of pandemic, but less for women

Before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shut down labs and sent scientists home to work, female astronomers on average published about nine papers for every 10 published by men — a rate that has remained stagnant for decades.

The pandemic appears to have worsened that gender imbalance.

In a paper appearing today in the journal Nature Astronomy, two cosmologists — Vanessa Böhm of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jia Liu of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) in Japan — report their analysis of publication rates in the field of astronomy pre-pandemic and as of February 2022, two years into the pandemic.

They found that, while both men and women on average have published more papers since March 2020, when most universities and research institutions closed their doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, men published a greater number, widening the gender gap. Worldwide, astronomy publications increased by about 13%.

Part of the increase was from publications by new researchers entering the field, Böhm said, though that was caused primarily by an uptick in new researchers publishing in Asia: Japan, Taiwan and China, primarily. In most other countries, though, fewer new researchers published in the field of astronomy during the pandemic, with women lagging behind men. About 25% of new authors are women, a percentage that also hasn’t budged in the past 10 years.

“A decrease in the number of first-time authors indicates barriers for young researchers to enter the field or complete their first projects,” Böhm noted.

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