Women—especially those early in their careers—submitted fewer manuscripts to journals than men during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study of 2,329 Elsevier journals (PLOS One 2021, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257919).
The study, by European social scientists, shows a 30% increase in article submissions from February to May 2020 compared with the same months in 2019. But when the researchers looked at submissions from individual researchers, women across all research areas, including the physical sciences, submitted fewer manuscripts in the 2020 period than they had in 2019.
This suggests that women had comparatively fewer opportunities than men for research at the start of the pandemic, the researchers say. Younger women—those less than 20 years from their first publication—had a larger reduction in submissions than older women, a difference the authors attribute to more family responsibilities.
Health and medicine journals showed the largest rise in submissions during COVID-19 and the largest gender gap. The researchers also found a gender gap in COVID-19-related research submissions specifically. “The pandemic could have exacerbated existing inequalities by imposing additional obstacles in terms of time and effort investment for women just as the demand for research was growing unprecedentedly,” the paper says.
The researchers also examined data on people who agreed to review manuscripts but didn’t find a large difference overall between men and women.