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Fall 2007

Volume 36
Number 2

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Female Academics Online: Taking Advantage of Reduced Communication Costs
By Daniel M. Butler, assistant professor of political science, Yale University

The Internet has increased opportunities for academics to work with colleagues at other institutions, largely by sharply reducing communication costs. By taking women in political science as a test case, coauthor Richard Butler and I show in our research that this reduction in communication costs has disproportionately affected women in two ways:

  • The rate at which women coauthor has increased relative to the rate at which their male counterparts coauthor.
  • Women are more willing to take jobs at smaller departments (which frequently have few women faculty members) because they now find it easier to collaborate across distance with colleagues at other departments. 

This article gives highlights of our paper, “Is the Internet Bridging the Gender Gap? The Case of Political Science.” The full paper is available at

Gender, Coauthoring, and the Internet

The Internet has expanded the pool of potential coauthors by decreasing the time and money costs of communication between people at different institutions. Using email, collaborators can send manuscripts and data to each other instantly and without costs. As Internet use has grown in popularity, and communication costs have correspondingly dropped, both men and women have seen a dramatic increase in the pool of coauthors with whom they might easily collaborate.

We would expect this increase in the potential pool of coauthors to disproportionately affect women’s rates of coauthorship because, as prior research indicates, scholars tend to collaborate with coauthors of the same gender (Freber and Teiman 1980; McDowell and Smith 1992), and in the field of political science, men outnumber women by a ratio of nearly three to one (Committee 2001, 320). Thus we would expect men to have ample opportunity to collaborate with same-gender coauthors at their home institutions. Correspondingly, we expect that women face a smaller local pool of same-gender colleagues and thus have more to gain from Internet collaboration.

To measure the extent to which academics were using the Internet to collaborate, we calculated the percentage of the papers in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s series of working papers that included an email address. Before 1996 virtually no papers listed emails, and by 1999 almost all papers listed emails. We observed a linear increase in email listings in between these dates.

To estimate the impact of the Internet on coauthorship rates, we also collected information on every article published in the top three political science journals during the 1990s and the early 2000s. Among other things, we coded the gender of the authors and whether or not the article was a coauthored piece. Our analysis of this data indicated that as Internet use increased, the female coauthorship rate increased by between 6 and 9 percentage points more than the male coauthorship rate increased.

To confirm the robustness of that finding, we combined our data on Internet use with data on female participation rates at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. We then compared changes in women’s rates of participation as chairpersons, discussants, and paper presenters before and after the rise of the Internet in 1996. If, as we have argued, the Internet has increased coauthorship rates among women (and consequently the overall rate at which women write papers), then we might expect women to present more papers after 1996 relative to previous years. In contrast, we would not necessarily expect an immediate change in women’s participation rates as discussants and chairpersons. Thus if our argument is correct, beginning in 1996, the percentage of female paper presenters should increase faster than the participation rates for discussants and chairpersons. Looking at the data, this is exactly the pattern we see.

Figure 1: Female Participation Rates at the Annual American Political Science Association Meetings.

Figure 1: Female Participation Rates at the Annual American Political Science Association Meetings.

Figure 1 plots these three activities for the years 1970-2004 with a vertical line indicating the year at which Internet use began to rise. Before 1996, we observe no significant difference between the three trend lines; any of the three activities might have the highest female participation rate in any given year. In contrast, after Internet use became popular, women consistently presented papers at higher rates than they participated in the other two activities. Subsequent regression analysis confirmed that the relative increase in women’s paper presentations after 1996 was statistically significant.

Department Size and Gender Sorting

As we began our research, we were initially surprised to find that before the Internet became popular in the mid-1990’s, men and women in political science coauthored at fairly similar rates. We expected that if women were proportionately distributed across departments at all institutions, they would coauthor at lower rates than men before the Internet expanded their pool of same-gender collaborators. McDowell and Smith (1992) explain this apparent discrepancy: women often opt to work in larger departments where they are more likely to find other women faculty members. By choosing departments with female colleagues, women academics access a relatively larger pool of potential same-gender collaborators (although still smaller than that available to their male colleagues) and counter some of the disadvantages they face as members of a minority group within the discipline. 

While many cultural or other influences might lead women to prefer departments with more women, we wondered if access to Internet communication would be important enough to measurably influence career decisions. We expected that as Internet use increased and inter-departmental communication costs dropped, women (now more able to communicate with female collaborators at other departments) would become more willing to accept positions at smaller departments, which traditionally have had fewer women faculty members.

Using data compiled from APSA’s annual “Survey of Political Science Departments” on the distribution of faculty by gender and rank during the period 1975-2001, we confirmed that more women began taking jobs at smaller departments after Internet use became popular. We ran a separate regression analysis for seven types of department: large PhD (average size 27.5 faculty members), large MA (14.7 faculty members), small PhD (14.3 faculty members), small MA (6.4 faculty members), Public BA (6.3 faculty members), Private BA (4.5 faculty members), and Combined1 (2.6 faculty members). Because we have data for only six years after the introduction of the Internet, and because tenure attainment takes an average of five or six years, we expect to see the smaller departments making the largest gains in female faculty at the assistant professor level after 1996. Our findings confirmed that expectation. The change in female assistant professors was small and statistically insignificant for the largest three types of departments, but much larger and statistically significant for the smaller departments (with small MA departments leading in significant increases in female faculty). This suggests that after Internet use became popular, women began to accept more jobs at smaller departments.


The Internet is helping transform opportunities for women in political science. Decreased communication costs have significantly increased the possibility of distance collaboration, and thus the pool of potential same-gender collaborators for women, who have correspondingly increased their rate of coauthorship faster than their male colleagues. Internet access has also made women more willing to accept positions in smaller departments. We believe that both female political scientists and the political science discipline will benefit from these trends.

The full set of conclusions is available in the paper:

1“Combined” departments refer to schools which do not have separate political science departments; political science faculty at these schools are combined in a department with faculty from other disciplines.


Ferber, Marianne A. and Michelle Teiman. "Are Women Economists at a Disadvantage in Publishing Journal Articles?" Eastern Economics Journal 1980 (August-October) 189-193.

McDowell, John M., and Janet Kiholm Smith. 1992. “The Effect of Gender-Sorting on Propensity to Coauthor: Implications for Academic Promotion.” Economic Inquiry 30(1): 68-82.

Committee on the status of Women in the Profession. 2001. “The Status of Women in Political Science: Female Participation in the Professoriate and the Study of Women and Politics in the Discipline.” PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (June): 319-326.

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