Where are the Women? SSRN Downloads Edition

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I recently posted here a list of law schools ranked #23-#100 by U.S. News, ranked by recent SSRN downloads.  For anyone who would like to use it, the data file is  here as an Excel spreadsheet and  here in CSV format.

A question from Dan Sokol (Florida) prompted me to do a gender analysis.  Here are the (surprising?) results. Of the 241 professors listed among the “Top 3” contributors at 81 schools, 183 (75.9%) are men and 58 (24.1%) are women.  (Gonzaga,  #81 on the list,  has only 1 faculty member with articles on SSRN.)

Before seeing the stats, Dan offered some thoughts by email (reprinted with permission):

I suspect that there is an echo effect of the “where are the women” phenomenon that you regularly note.   When there is a high profile symposium   and no/few women get invited and the symposium places in a top law review, there are more citations merely because someone is more likely to download something designated “forthcoming Michigan Law Review”.   Previous work suggests that women publish less than men.   It may be that this effect also come up in the SSRN context.   The alternative might also be true – in the marketplace of ideas the most interesting piece gets the most downloads and so perhaps there is more equal representation between men and women particularly since younger faculty are evenly split gender-wise and younger faculty have been more ready to embrace SSRN.

This is just one of Dan’s different (and competing) hypotheses.  For his thoughts on gender issues in antitrust scholarship, see here.

I think Dan is right about the echo effect — or maybe it’s a ripple effect.  Who gets invited to symposia very much impacts who gets published in X school’s law review (allowing for the facts that plenty of law reviews publish both a symposium and other editions, and some publish no symposium edition at all).

There may be some overlap between the “ripple” theory and the “marketplace of ideas” theory.  If we assume that, from the perspective of SSRN users, women’s scholarship is as interesting/good/worthwhile as men’s, then we would expect the gender break-down for overall SSRN downloads (although perhaps not the “Top 3” list) to correspond to the gender break-down for all SSRN contributors.  Further questions:

  • Do female law professors contribute to SSRN at a rate that corresponds to their representation in the legal academy?  If not, why not?  Might one factor be that women are over-represented in legal writing positions, for example, in which the scholarly publication expectations are different?  Is it because women are comparatively more represented on non-elite law faculties, and those faculties might place less importance on scholarly publications, or on posting to SSRN, than elite schools do?
  • If the overall percentage of women contributing to SSRN does not correspond to their representation in the academy, how do women’s per capita downloads compare with men’s per capita downloads?  In other words, is the “average” woman who posts on SSRN “more downloaded” than the “average” man who posts on SSRN?
  • How does the SSRN gender gap among the “Top 3” contributors compare with the overall SSRN gender gap?  Are women are under-represented in the fields that use SSRN most frequently?  Brian Leiter observes  here that scholarship in certain fields dominates the “most-downloaded” lists.
  • Is any SSRN gender gap less salient among junior scholars than senior scholars?
  • Do the SSRN downloads reveal a different gender gap than other studies of faculty productivity do?  If so, how and why is the SSRN gap different?
  • Is there any relationship between the gender gap and a school’s rank by overall number of downloads?  Rank by U.S. News?

What other questions would help us understand a 75.9% vs. 24.1% differential?

-Bridget Crawford

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