Publishing while Female. Are women held to higher standards? Evidence from peer review.

Hengel, E. 

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I use readability scores to test if referees and/or editors apply higher standards to women's writing in academic peer review. I find: (i) female-authored papers are 1-6 percent better written than equivalent papers by men; (ii) the gap is two times higher in published articles than in earlier, draft versions of the same papers; (iii) women's writing gradually improves but men's does not-meaning the readability gap grows over authors' careers. In a dynamic model of an author's decision-making process, I show that tougher editorial standards and/or biased referee assignment are uniquely consistent with this pattern of choices. A conservative causal estimate derived from the model suggests senior female economists write at least 9 percent more clearly than they otherwise would. These findings indicate that higher standards burden women with an added time tax and probably contribute to academia's "Publishing Paradox" Consistent with this hypothesis, I find female-authored papers spend six months longer in peer review. More generally, tougher standards impose a quantity/quality tradeoff that characterises many instances of female output. They could resolve persistently lower-otherwise unexplained-female productivity in many high-skill occupations.