Politics & Policy

Gender, seniority, and self-citation practices in political science

Dion, M.L.; Mitchell, S.McLaughlin; Sumner, J.L.
Aug-07-2021

Abstract

Many studies in political science and other disciplines show that published research by women is cited less often than research by male peers in the same discipline. While previous studies have suggested that self-citation practices may explain the gender citation gap in political science, few studies have evaluated whether men and women self-cite at different rates. Our article examines the relationship between author gender, author experience and seniority, and authors’ decisions to include self-citations using a new dataset that includes all articles published in 22 political science journals between 2007 and 2016. Contrary to our expectations, we fail to reject the null hypothesis that men are more likely cite their previous work than women, whether writing alone or co-authoring with others of the same sex. Mixed gender author teams are significantly less likely to self-cite. We also observe lower rates of self-citation in general field journals and Comparative/International Relations subfield journals. The results imply that the relationship between gender and self-citation depends on several factors such as collaboration and the typical seniority and experience of authors on the team.

Many studies in political science and other disciplines show that published research by women is cited less often than research by male peers in the same discipline.Footnote 1 Achieving a critical mass of female scholars in research areas helps to improve the overall number of citations to women’s work, but the gender gap remains, as male authors cite significantly fewer works by women, even in fields where women constitute the majority of scholars (Dion et al 2018). Beyond the opportunities for citing work by women (based on the density of female scholars), questions also emerge about whether gender citation gaps are driven by differences in self-citation practices. Self-citation involves the authors of an article citing work in the paper’s bibliography that was written by the authors. For solo-authored work, this involves a citation to the single author him/herself. For coauthored work, this involves citation to at least one of the authors’ previous works. In other words, men might have a higher willingness to cite their own work than women, which could account for observed citation gaps (Hutson 2006; Maliniak et al 2013; Ghiasi et al 2016). This is important because Fowler and Aksnes’ (2007) suggest that self-citations accrue new citations over time. If men cite their own work more frequently than women early in their careers, these early cites help to increase the number of later career citations.

In some ways, the discussion of self-citation practices reflects a broader discussion in society about whether gender biases can be addressed by women “leaning in” or by changing structural conditions that create the biases. Concluding that women have fewer citations because they cite their own research less often than men is a version of the “lean in” mentality. If women just cited themselves more, the problem would be fixed! Yet the research on “Matthew effects” in academia shows this solution is likely to be inadequate because work by men can still be viewed as the most important or central research to cite, even in fields that have higher densities of female scholars (Dion et al 2018).Footnote 2 Implicit biases would not be reduced by a “lean in” strategy of women being more careful about citing their own research. It also ignores the fact that co-authorship emerges in academic environments that are hierarchically constructed. If junior women coauthor with senior men, for example, they may be reluctant to advocate for citations of their work.Footnote 3 Authors from similar academic generations may be more confident in adding citations to their research in coauthored papers. In short, sociological factors influence how publishing teams emerge and how they construct bibliographies and we need to understand these structural conditions more fully.Footnote 4

In this paper, we examine whether published articles include one or more self-citations in 8715 articles in 22 political science journals between 2007 and 2016. We answer the question, are women authors less likely to cite their previous work than men, and do certain other characteristics of authors, such as experience and seniority, reduce these differences? In addition to presenting descriptive data across journals, we estimate multivariate self-citation models that compare solo-authored and multi-authored works and we examine interactions with author seniority and experience. We hypothesize that female authors are less likely to cite their own research than male authors and that higher levels of seniority and experience increase self-citations for men more so than women authors. We control for a variety of factors that influence the likelihood of self-citation including number of authors, number of references, and the highest number of previous citations accrued by authors.

Our empirical analyses suggest several interesting things. For solo-authored work, our results lead us to conclude that there is no significant difference in the likelihood of self-citation between male and female authors, which indicates that women in political science are in fact “leaning in” and citing their research as often as men. We also fail to reject the null hypothesis of no differences in self-citation practices between all male author teams and all female author teams. However, mixed author gender teams are significantly less likely to cite previous work by one of the authors than other author groups and the interactive effects of seniority and experience are distinct for this group. We also find higher probabilities of self-citation in general field journals and lower probabilities in Comparative/ International Relations (IR) subfield journals. These results imply that the relationship between gender and the decision to self-cite depends on several factors, such as collaboration and the typical seniority and experience of authors on the team.

Our paper briefly reviews research on self-citations. We then describe our dataset and coding rules used to indicate the presence and number of self-citations in each article, which is our outcome of interest. This is followed by a section reviewing our empirical results and a discussion of the implications of our findings for scholarly practices in publishing and proper attribution of female scholars’ research.