New Scholarship Explores Underrepresentation of Women in Law Scholarly Impact Rankings & Proposes Alternative Metric

Several studies have found that women tend to publish less frequently than men.  However, research also shows that, per publication, women tend to be cited at the same or higher rates than men. New scholarship by Rob Willey, Melanie Knapp, and Ashley Matthews of George Mason University Law Library explores how and why women are frequently underrepresented in law scholarly impact rankings and suggests alternative metrics to mitigate the imbalance.

Most likely, women’s lower career output stems from a combination of less time to write, more career absences, and shorter careers, all likely stemming from current caretaking expectations. Further, studies in legal academia and other disciplines have found that caretaking norms extend into the workplace, where women shoulder more of the informal caretaking responsibilities that exist in higher education environments, including law schools. In higher ed, workplace caretaking takes the form of additional student meetings and other student support….

Across a range of disciplines women tend to produce 20 percent fewer publications than men over the course of their careers.  Assuming a similar average in legal scholarship, top male scholars will publish around 40 more articles than women over the course of their careers….

Focusing on a scholar’s entire career, as current rankings do, creates a system that exacerbates this gender publication gap…. [However,] if you look at a five-year period, the advantage will be significantly lower, about 5 articles…

To mitigate this gender gap, the authors propose and tested a ranking that only considers citations to articles published in the past 5 years, unlike Sisk and other rankings that look at citations to each scholar’s career publications over the past 5 years.

Is our system really more representative? If we expand our view, we see that numbers two and three are women. Four out of the top ten are women, compared to zero in the top ten for the Sisk Ranking, as published by Leiter. This sample demonstrates that our proposed system gives women a chance to rank in the upper echelons of the rankings, something that appeared nearly impossible in the career publications focused rankings.

Toward the end of the paper, the authors consider the merits of a ranking based on SSRN downloads rather than or in addition to law journal citation rankings.  Although there would indeed be some advantages, I have concerns about a ranking based on SSRN downloads which I will explore in a future post.