Usually, I write about scientific discoveries rather than the scientific process, but today I'll take a moment to look at what is behind the gender gap in physics paper citations.
Sabine Hossenfelder, at her blog, makes a convincing effort to determine why papers by men are cited such much more often than women in physics, as a rebuttal to another investigator who concluded that women are cited less often because they are inferior physicists.
Essentially, almost all of the gap is attributable to women dropping out of active research positions in the profession entirely very early in their careers. This is common among both men and women, but it is more common among women. Among researchers who have published at least five papers, including one in the last three years, there is basically no gender based citation gap. As she explains:
[T]he vast majority of people who use the arXiv publish only one or two papers and are never heard of again. This is in agreement with the well-known fact that the majority of physicists drop out of academic careers.
The first one or two papers of a junior researcher who never publishes again is much less likely to be cited by someone else than a paper published by someone who continues to actively publish for a long time. And, women are much more likely to leave the academic physics profession than men, in part, because many leave to spend time raising children and never return to research physics positions afterwards.
The real question is why the mommy track totally kills the advanced research career arc. I think in general, but especially in the US, the demands of the career preclude the emotional investment necessary in having children.
In short, we discourage long term research, plus we do not build career tracks with children in mind.
Men can have children, because they usually have a woman to do most of the early childhood drudgery.
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