gendered recognition of groupwork: sociology vs. economics

Economics PhD student Heather Sarsons has an interesting working paper on the effect of co-authoring on tenure decisions in economics and sociology. The main finding is that women do not benefit as much as men from co-authoring in economics, especially if they co-author with men. The same does not apply to sociology. Here’s the abstract:

How is credit for group work allocated when individual contributions are not perfectly observed? Do demographic traits like gender influence the allocation of credit? Using data from academic economists’ CVs, I test whether coauthored and solo-authored publications matter differently for tenure for men and women. Because coauthors are listed alphabetically in economics, coauthored papers do not provide specific information about each contributor’s skills or ability. Solo-authored papers, on the other hand, provide a relatively clear signal of ability. I find that men are tenured at roughly the same rate regardless of whether they coauthor or solo-author. Women, however, become less likely to receive tenure the more they coauthor. The result is most pronounced for women coauthoring with men and less pronounced among women who coauthor with other women. I contrast economics with sociology, a discipline in which coauthors are listed in order of contribution, and find that when contributions are made clear, men and women receive equal credit for coauthored papers.

It would be fascinating to compare sociology and economics to another field or two. While I think the argument about the importance of clear signaling is very plausible, I wonder if the paper downplays other, more macro differences between the two fields. Sarsons notes, but makes little of, the fact that sociology is much less dominated by men than economics (see, e.g.). In the paper, women are about 23% of the econ population, but 40% in sociology. And while both fields have prominent scholars studying gender inequality, it’s plausible that such concerns are more central to sociology’s identity and day-to-day functioning than they are in economics. If that’s the case, it would be useful to compare both fields to a third field with a mix of co- and single-authored papers, but which has the gender ratios of economics and the signaling structure as sociology. Perhaps Political Science? What do you all think?

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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