Nov 7, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Gender disparities in academia have been widely discussed, with research suggesting that male researchers not only produce more papers every year, but are also more cited overall. Now comes news, however, that women -- while often underrepresented in academia -- may actually have a greater educational impact with the research they generate. Here’s a closer look at the findings, as recently published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Altmetrics.

The Impact of Female-Authored Research

After looking for evidence of gender differentials in terms of educational impact based on data from reference manager Mendeley, the research indicates female-authored research attracts more student readers -- including undergraduates, master’s students, and junior researchers -- than those authored by men.

The conclusion? “Although the evidence is weak, the findings raise the possibility that female-authored research has, on average, a greater non-research impact within education.”

Understanding the Phenomenon

Which begs the question: Why are female-authored journal articles more widely read? For starters, researchers suggest that because women are more likely to be in teaching-related roles, they may have more accessible writing styles.

Additionally, while the research insists that it is unlikely that students are seeking out papers authored by women, it is possible that in their teaching roles women may be recommending their own writing to students as part of their curricula.

Lastly, the report proposes, “It is at least plausible that the greater undergraduate interest in female-authored research is partly due to a greater male tendency to focus on micro-specialisms that are not of interest to them, and a greater female tendency to conduct interdisciplinary research with human-related angles in other research fields.”

Regardless of the reasons, there is an overarching takeaway. “Whatever the cause, the results suggest that citation-based research evaluations may undervalue the wider impact of female researchers,” argues author Mike Thelwall.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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