The gender imbalance in academic medicine: a study of female authorship in the United Kingdom

J R Soc Med. 2009 Aug;102(8):337-42. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2009.080378.


Objectives: A shortfall exists of female doctors in senior academic posts in the United Kingdom. Career progression depends on measures of esteem, including publication in prestigious journals. This study investigates gender differences in first and senior authorship in six peer-reviewed British journals and factors that are associated with publication rates.

Design and main outcome measures: Data was collected on United Kingdom first and senior authors who had published in the British Medical Journal, Lancet, British Journal of Surgery, Gut, British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. Authorship and gender were quantified for 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2004 (n=6457). In addition, selected questions from the Athena Survey of Science Engineering and Technology (ASSET2006), web-based doctor's self-report of publications were also analysed (n=1162).

Results: Female first authors increased from 10.5% in 1970 to 36.5% in 2004 (p<0.001) while female senior authors only increased from 12.3% to 16.5% (p=0.046). Within individual journals, the largest rise was in British Journal of Obstetric and Gynaecology with 4.5- and 3-fold increases for first and senior authors, respectively. In contrast, female senior authors marginally declined in Gut and Lancet by 2.8% and 2.2%, respectively. ASSET2006 identified that female respondents who were parents were less likely to have publications as sole (p=0.02) and joint authors (p<0.001) compared to male respondents. Female respondents with care responsibilities for parents/partner also had less publications as lead authors compared to those without carer responsibilities (p<0.001).

Conclusion: The increase in UK female first authors is encouraging. In contrast, there is considerable lag and in some specialties a decline in female senior authors. Factors that could narrow the gender gap in authorship should be sought and addressed.

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians, Women / trends
  • Publishing / statistics & numerical data
  • United Kingdom