Reporting of data on participant ethnicity and socioeconomic status in high-impact medical journals: a targeted literature review

BMJ Open. 2022 Aug 17;12(8):e064276. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-064276.


Objectives: To assess the frequency of reporting of ethnicity (or 'race') and socioeconomic status (SES) indicators in high-impact journals.

Design: Targeted literature review.

Data sources: The 10 highest ranked general medical journals using Google scholar h5 index.

Eligibility criteria: Inclusion criteria were, human research, reporting participant level data. Exclusion criteria were non-research article, animal/other non-human participant/subject or no participant characteristics reported.

Data extraction and synthesis: Working backwards from 19 April 2021 in each journal, two independent reviewers selected the 10 most recent articles meeting inclusion/exclusion criteria, to create a sample of 100 articles. Data on the frequency of reporting of ethnicity (or 'race') and SES indicators were extracted and presented using descriptive statistics.

Results: Of 100 research articles included, 35 reported ethnicity and 13 SES. By contrast, 99 reported age, and 97 reported sex or gender. Among the articles not reporting ethnicity, only 3 (5%) highlighted this as a limitation, and only 6 (7%) where SES data were missing. Median number of articles reporting ethnicity per journal was 2.5/10 (range 0 to 9). Only two journals explicitly requested reporting of ethnicity (or race), and one requested SES.

Conclusions: The majority of research published in high-impact medical journals does not include data on the ethnicity and SES of participants, and this omission is rarely acknowledged as a limitation. This situation persists despite the well-established importance of this issue and International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommendations to include relevant demographic variables to ensure representative samples. Standardised explicit minimum standards are required.

Keywords: general medicine (see internal medicine); internal medicine; statistics & research methods.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ethnicity*
  • Humans
  • Journal Impact Factor
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Publications
  • Social Class