… First they created an algorithm to label the millions of JSTOR papers by field and subfield. Then the trick was to figure out whether an author was male or female. The lab consulted data on birth names collected by the Social Security Administration. If a name was used at least 95 percent of the time for a female, they coded it female, and the same for a male. If use of the name was more ambiguous, they threw the paper out.
Of the eight million articles the group started with, it ended up analyzing two million—written by 2.7 million scholars—whose author composition was similar to the whole. Roughly half were published between 1665 and 1989, and the other half between 1990 and 2010. Included in the database are papers in the hard sciences, the social sciences, law, history, philosophy, and education. Missing from the JSTOR data are articles in engineering, English, foreign languages, and physics.
The data show that over the entire 345 years, 22 percent of all authors were female. (Even though few papers in the JSTOR archive originated in the first 100 years, the researchers still felt that examining the entire data set was worthwhile.) The data also show that women were slightly less likely than that to be first author: About 19 percent of first authors in the study were female. Women were more likely to appear as third, fourth, or fifth authors.
According to the data in just the most recent time period, it is clear that the proportion of female authors over all is rising. From 1990 to 2010, the percentage of female authors went up to 27 percent. In 2010 alone, the last year for which full figures are available, the proportion had inched up to 30 percent. “The results show us what a lot of people have been saying and many of my female colleagues have been feeling,” says Ms. Jacquet. “Things are getting better for women in academia.”
Women still are not publishing, though, in the same proportion as they are present in academe as professors. The same year that the share of female authors in the study reached 30 percent, women made up 42 percent of all full-time professors in academe and about 34 percent of all those at the most senior levels of associate and full professor, according to the American Association of University Professors.
As the proportion of female authors over all has grown, the biologists’ study found, so has the percentage of women as first authors. In fact, by 2010 about the same proportion of women were first authors as were authors in general—about 30 percent.
But those gains have not been mirrored in the last-author position, which is of particular importance in the biological sciences. According to the data, in 2010 only about 23 percent of last authors over all were female. In molecular and cell biology, women represented almost 30 percent of authorships from 1990 to 2010, but only 16.5 percent of last authors. And over that same time period in ecology and evolution, women represented nearly 23 percent of authors but only 18.5 percent of last authors. …